Saturday, August 25, 2012

Editing Passes for Business/Personal Correspondence

One reader asks:
I am informed that I write long and 'intense' letters. After all, I mean to transfer content to the reader. I am always up for new ways to become succinct without losing the detail, or rather the points intended to be made through detail. I am not completely cognisant of what you mean by Reverse Outline. Do you have anymore articles on how you pick out content over verbosity?


Multiple editing passes are as useful for business and personal corrspondence as they are for technical essays.  Most editing involves removing (or paring down) words, sentences, and often entire paragraphs.  During each pass, one focuses on a different category of verbiage to eliminate or essentialize.  This article will describe recommended editing passes for business and personal writing.  Note that self-editing is most effective when one takes time away from the draft, for reflection.

The Reverse Outline method is a useful tool to go along with every editing pass.

The first editng pass should remove general "fluff," i.e., words that do not add any meaning to the piece.  Fluff can easily double the length of a letter.  Use direct, simple language instead.  For example, which of these sentences seems most effective?
  1. In my view, it is best to utilize a direct and simple communication style whenever possible instead of indulging in rampant verbosiy for the sake of grammatical self-glorification.
  2. It is best to utilize a direct and simple communication style instead of indulging in rampant verbosiy.
  3. Use direct, simple language instead.
This last is often all that is necessary.  As you review your own words, aim for economy of language.

Next, edit out personal thought processes that are not essential to the message.  Off-the-cuff letters tend to include much of the writer's internal dialogue -- thoughts which lead him to his conclusions.  But only the conclusions matter.  Your boss doesn't need to know the details of every thought in your mind, and neither does your girlfriend.  What do you want to communicate?  State your conclusions in as few words as possible.  Simple and Direct.

Edit emotional content.  When communicating about emotions, do so directly.  Inciteful, moralistic language is rarely useful and should be carefuly considred.  If you write angry, sit on it a bit before hitting the Send button.  Come back later and reconsider.  Intensity is good if it is managed.

During each editing pass, look for ways to simplify your message.  It is much easier to screw up a complicated message than a simple one.  Eliminate language that does not contribute to a few central points.

Hope this is helpful.

--Dan Edge