Embrace your inner editor, or cutting words…

Cutting words, making the language as concise as possible is one of my favourite writing activities. Give me a 1500 word essay that is 400 words over count and ask me to ‘edit down’. Heaven! (I know, I know, sad….)

There is just something incredibly satisfying about using as few words as possible to create a coherent piece of work.

Cutting words also known as ‘Editing Down’ is an essential element of writing well. Here is a piece of text with example edits which should help you along the path of eternal editing.

When ex-Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd, banned breast (and bottle) feeding in much of the Palace of Westminster in April, 2000, she did mothers a great disservice. Breastfeeding was considered in the ban to be “bringing refreshments into the room”, and babies were banned because they are “persons other than members of the committee and specified officers and officials”, as if they were likely to affect policy or divulge information. Dorothy-Grace Elder, Member of the Scottish Parliament, spoke out against the ruling, specifically noting that in Glasgow, it is a struggle to encourage mothers to breastfeed, this being a class issue – only 30% of poorer mothers there were then breastfeeding and just 25% of under 20s. Part of the problem, she felt, was the goody two shoes image of breastfeeding and the sense of rebellion that most women feel postnatally, but also the sexualisation of breasts: “men have made breasts sexual objects, for sexual exploitation from advertising onwards. Their natural function is still derided by many men. 172 words

First edit:

When ex-House of Commons Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, banned infant feeding in the Palace of Westminster in April 2000, she did mothers a great disservice. Breastfeeding was considered to be “bringing refreshments into the room”; babies were banned because they are “persons other than members of the committee and specified officers and officials”, as if likely to affect policy or divulge information. Dorothy-Grace Elder, Member of the Scottish Parliament, spoke out against the ruling, specifically noting that in Glasgow, it is a struggle to encourage mothers to breastfeed; only 30% of poorer mothers there were then breastfeeding and just 25% of under 20s. Part of the problem, she felt, was the goody-two-shoes image of breastfeeding, the sense of rebellion that most women feel postnatally, but also the sexualisation of breasts: “men have made breasts sexual objects, for sexual exploitation from advertising onwards. Their natural function is still derided by many men. 153 words

Second edit:

When ex-Commons Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, banned infant feeding at Westminster in April 2000, she did mothers a great disservice. Breastfeeding was called: “bringing refreshments into the room”; babies were banned because they are “persons other than members of the committee and specified officers and officials”, as if likely to affect policy or divulge information. Dorothy-Grace Elder, Member of the Scottish Parliament, spoke out against this, noting that in Glasgow, few mothers breastfeed; only 30% of poorer mothers were then breastfeeding, just 25% of under 20. Part of the problem, she felt, was the goody two shoe image of breastfeeding, the sense of rebellion of postnatal women, and the sexualisation of breasts: “men have made breasts sexual objects, for sexual exploitation from advertising onwards. Their natural function is still derided by many men. 133 words

Can you reduce this even further without losing meaning? It depends upon our audience. If people know what we are writing about we can dispense with yet more description:

Final edit:

When Betty Boothroyd banned infant feeding at Westminster in 2000, she did mothers a great disservice. Breastfeeding was “bringing refreshments into the room”; babies were banned as “persons other than members of the committee and specified officers and officials”, although unlikely to affect policy/divulge information. Dorothy-Grace Elder, Member of the Scottish Parliament, spoke out against this, noting that in Glasgow, few mothers breastfeed; only 30% of poorer mothers breastfed, just 25% of under 20. The problem, she felt, was the saintly image of breastfeeding, the rebellion of postnatal women, and the sexualisation of breasts: “men have made breasts sexual objects, for sexual exploitation from advertising onwards. Their natural function is still derided by many men”115 words

There is more to be done: Member of the Scottish Parliment could become Scottish MP, for example, which = 3 words lost at a stroke with meaning retained…

Think how crucial this editing skill is when you have a word count to consider………losing 57 words – or more – in a paragraph can be quite a big help and tightens up your writing.

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