Too Many Words Risk Reader Confusion

Last Friday morning, I had the honor of talking about editing to the Minnesota Chapter of the National Speakers Association. We did an editing exercise I’ve used in my classes for the past fourteen years. The exercise directions were to “cross out every unnecessary word and when you are finished, count the words remaining.”

Then I polled the audience asking for the number of words that remained. The original paragraph had 78 words and poll revealed the number of words remaining ranged from 45 to 5.

As I asked each speaker to read the paragraph he or she edited, it became clear some totally missed the point (main idea) of the paragraph (for they had crossed out the words that pertained to it).

That created a learning opportunity. Even though we love words, we need to be mindful that they can confuse our readers if we use more than we need to make our point.

Some in the audience claimed the answer (which is four words, so one speaker was close) lacked style and embellishment. But my response was the directions were to cross out every unnecesary word in that paragraph.

When you decide embellishment will make your writing more interesting, use it. But that’s another assignment.

I trust you’ll read your own writing with an increased awareness of whether or not any given word is necessary to conveying your point to your reader.  Don’t risk losing your reader. Instead give your reader your best effort. It’s much harder to write tight than to write verbose. Try it and see.

Happy writing!


1 Response to “Too Many Words Risk Reader Confusion”

  1. 1 Fay November 4, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    I learned so much from you when you edited my book. I still think about the work “that” every time I write it or see it in writing. That is a word I can usually delete.

    I sometimes wish we could also teach people to talk with less words. I’m sure we have all been in conversations with people when they use 10 minutes of words to say “I had a cold and so did my kids.”. Now with the flu season here I fear we will be victims to endless flue stories. Just wash your hands and eliminate the conversation.

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