I edit a lot of fundraising copy. And I work with veteran professional writers who know their stuff. I'm not helping them hammer out the basics.
Most of edits I make to others' copy (and my own) are in these categories:
- Removing the first one to three paragraphs. You'd be amazed. This works almost every time. Almost every writer (including me) spends the opening paragraph or so "warming up" before getting down to the real work.
- Removing the word "that." Not every time it appears, but most of the time. Sentences like I hope that you will give usually go better with out that that.
- Removing adverbs. Almost all of them. Adverbs seldom make verbs any stronger.
- Removing adjectives. A good adjective can earn its keep. Most of them don't.
- Removing complicated background material. Some details are good; they add specificity and authenticity. Too many make the copy hard to understand, and remove the focus from the important stuff.
See the pattern?
You can almost always make copy better by removing stuff. Even good, strong copy written by professional writers.
I bring it up because most of the time, the editing process adds stuff to the copy.
That's because it's done by committees. Each member of the committee wants certain things clarified or emphasized. So they add a word here, a phrase there, adjectives, adverbs, fluff, and lots of complicated background material.
Clear, muscular copy turns into fog.
If you want to make some copy better, make it shorter. If you want to make it worse, give it to a committee.
(This post first appeared on November 9, 2011.)