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September 25, 2009



I've always found tight word and character counts as an interesting exercise. It's good practice in building more concise sentences; as several professors in graduate school always joked, length does not equal quality! The beauty of the drill is that it forces one to be more deliberate with each word, to lovingly select each one to offer the most precise picture possible.

Kim Torgerson

Heh heh, I mowed your 440 words down to 282--what do you think? The whole topic, though, is spot on: it can definitely be harder to write a paragraph than a page. -- Kim

"...It took me a little over four uninterrupted hours yesterday to write six sentences – all together 95 words (I was so intent on finishing that I almost missed “Project Runway,” though, really, how boring is this season?). My journey yesterday reminded me how hard it is to pack in a ton of information using as few ounces of words as possible.

No one process exists on how to do this, but here’s how I do it. First, I more or less write as much as I want, ignoring word count. I just shove in all the information available. This way, when I start to edit, edit, edit, I can use my judgment and weigh what’s important as I begin the arduous process of slashing content, rearranging words, and rewriting sentences. Smarts, savvy, and confidence come into play. After all, I need to be able to defend my edits intelligently when the client asks, "where's the information about the blah-bi-di-blah-blah-blah ?"

I also mow through my copy and delete every adjective and adverb. They’re perfectly (adverb) nice (adjective) parts of speech but when every word counts, most modifiers do not. When I’m writing a short piece that’s intended to pack a wallop, I imagine myself putting words and sentences through a sieve and seeing what shakes out. Since I’ve been twittering (at SantowDan), forcing myself to say something compelling in 140 or fewer characters, I’ve also noticed that I’ve gotten more efficient at telegraphing a lot of information using as few words as possible.

Next time I have only 95 or so words to write, I’m hoping I can whittle down the time it takes. After all, “Project Runway” waits for no one!

Greg Smith

Boy, that's one helluva way to write. I spent 17 years in daily newspapers and the first thing I wrote was usually the finished product. I had good notes (they were embedded in my head). The trick (or skill) for me was to spend a few minutes thinking of my lead. Everything flowed from there. It never took long. I wasn't allowed the luxury of time. @prlab

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Why "Word Wise"?

  • When I started to e-mail out a weekly writing tip to my Chicago colleagues at Edelman in 2002, little did I know how quickly how many people outside my office would start to request it. But word spread, as word is wont to do, and in 2006 the e-mail evolved into this blog. The tips, which are about grammar, usage and style, have a dual purpose – to remind my colleagues in PR of the power of the written word and, more generally, to support and perpetuate clear, concise, creative, honest, lively, stylish, compelling writing everywhere. In 2009 I started to add commentary about and links to stories and other blog posts related to the media, marketing, writing and, sometimes, just interesting stuff. For some reason, I also started Twittering (at SantowDan).