Category Archives: editing guidance

Keep It Simple


In our busy, complex personal and professional lives, filled with information coming from every imaginable source, simple things are appreciated. We all have a finite amount of time and attention to give each day.

Here’s how you can help…

  1. Write shorter paragraphs, using shorter sentences.
  2. Edit your email signature and dump all that legalese at the bottom (which no one ever reads anyway).
  3. If you own a restaurant, eliminate half of your menu items. You’ll make life easier for your diners, your staff and yourself.
  4. Include just one sales message in your marketing emails. (You don’t have to tell me everything about your organization.)
  5. Make sure images in your emails and on your website are as recognizable on a tiny phone screen as they are on your big desktop screen.
  6. Facebook and Instagram allow for long posts. Don’t do it! Most of us will just scroll on past the long ones. (Thanks, Twitter, for maintaining a maximum post length.)
  7. Place a time limit on videos you share. How long? Determine what your audience is comfortable with. (Consider that some of us may hesitate to watch a 7-minute video but will gladly watch 7 one-minute videos.)
  8. Be merciless when editing content. Three good paragraphs beats twelve mediocre paragraphs every time.
  9. Unless it’s your doctoral dissertation, don’t be afraid to use sentence fragments, when appropriate.

For a perfect example of the beauty and effectiveness of a simple approach, compare the layouts of with and (Google has a 67.68% market share for searches; Bing, 13.27%; Yahoo, 8.14%.)

An almost infinite number of choices in many aspects of our life is wonderful. Unless we want the regular version, in the standard size, and it’s not in stock. Have you ever gone grocery shopping and found a dozen or more variations on the product you want, but not the particular version you want?

The great singer/songwriter Merle Haggard who died last week was once quoted as saying, “The most important thing in a song is simplicity.” Keep it simple.

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Can You Teach A New Dog Old Tricks?


Newspapers are dead, according to common belief in 2015. (Just don’t tell that to the people who drop off the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Wall Street Journal and New York Times at my house each morning.)

Certainly the transition to online communication from ink on paper is continuing full steam ahead (full lithium battery ahead?) and is revealing that some purveyors of online content don’t know when to stop.

A key component of a successful newspaper, for at least the last century, has been the columnist who shares opinion and information with a personal writing style. Newspapers have traditionally limited the amount of space on the page a column may occupy. Tight editing allows more space for ads and other content.

In an online context, however, a writer has an almost infinite amount of space to spew his or her thoughts. If you consume a large amount on online content, you have certainly encountered articles that run too long. You may have slogged on to the end and breathed a sigh of relief when you got there.

You have also read articles that kept your undivided attention from start to finish and, occasionally, left you wanting more.

Though the initial reason for limiting newspaper columnists may have been conservation of valuable space on the page, writers and editors have learned over the years that there are optimum lengths for columns that ensure reader engagement. These may vary from paper to paper and section to section, but a good columnist will develop the ability to compose her or his content within established parameters.

How can these old newspaper methods apply to today’s new communicators? These “new dogs” can read columnists from today’s major papers and take note of their “old tricks.” Practice self-editing. Check for redundancies. Read your prior posts and consider how you might have made them tighter. Ask your readers and associates for candid feedback.

If it takes too long to read through the piece you have written and posted, your reader may check out halfway through and move on the next article on his/her agenda. Know when to say when.

(photo credit: via,

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Copied, Clipped and Saved: Useful Advice For Writers

Back in the 80’s, I copied several pages from Larry Wilde’s 1976 book How The Great Comedy Writers Create Laughter. The book has several ideas that I figured would serve me well whether I was writing comedy or non-comedy material.

“The first thing a writer has to learn is an economy of words. Too many words convolute a thought.” This advice comes from writer Mort Lachman and applies to a wide range of written content.

“For audience attention, the use of simple English is invariably best,” says Sherwood Schwartz, creator-writer of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island. “If a strange word is used, it takes their minds away from the thought at hand.” I know I’ve been distracted when reading magazine or newspaper pieces that use egghead words, when an everyday word would’ve worked just as well.

“If you want to be a writer, you have to really like to write.” This comment from writer Stan Dreben may seem obvious. However—I often encounter young people who tell me they would like to be writers. I ask, “Do you write much (other than school assignments)? Do you have a blog?” They generally tell me no.

My favorite piece of writing advice from the book is attributed to writer Stanley Ralph Ross who says, “Writing is rewriting and don’t ever forget it. When you’ve cut all the fat away, attack the meat. Then slash at the bone.”

In 2011, I clipped an essay from the Wall Street Journal by Katie Wech. She offers, “In screenwriting, you have to cover a lot of ground with very few words.” She quotes a mentor who describes the craft as “the thong bikini of writing.”

Regarding the economy of words and aggressive editing in her work, she writes: “I’ve thrown away exquisite pieces of dialogue, set pieces that made me giggle, characters I’ve lived with for months, because at the end of the day, they weren’t necessary to the story.”

She ends the piece (and I end this post) with these words: “I have cultivated… a keen love for the most powerful tool I’ve found as a screenwriter: the delete key.”




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Nuggets of Information: I Love ‘Em!

Who is responsible for info coming to us in easily digestible nuggets? Those items that run just a sentence or two or three, but tell us the main facts we want/need to consume.

Was it the “three dot” newspaper columnists back in the first half of the 20th century? They wanted to get as many names in bold print as possible and the best way to cram several names and events into finite page space was via the well-edited nugget.

Was it New York magazine in the 1970’s? The mag’s fresh design layout allowed for numerous nuggets to be sprinkled throughout each issue, among their longer pieces.

Was it TV news consultants in the 1980’s? They told local stations that the key to ratings wins was “high story count.” This method had been shown to be effective a couple of decades earlier by top-forty radio, which presented news with energy and excitement.

Was it PowerPoint users in the 1990’s? Having a presentation on your laptop was quite impressive 20 years ago, but required reducing longer text paragraphs into bullet points.

Was it text messagers in the 2000’s? Texters have taken minimalism to an extreme, but have shown us that information can be communicated with a single letter and/or punctuation mark: k?

To all who have played roles in condensing info into nuggets, I thank you. As do others.

The St. Louis Business Journal’s page two “Shoptalk” column is its most popular feature, filled with nuggets. The Wall Street Journal’s “What’s News” on the left side of its front page has basic facts—via the nugget—and lists the page where the full story is printed. Many of the emails in my inbox each day consist of nuggets with links to details, should I want more. Twitter allows quick and easy scrolling through nugget after nugget. Another popular form of communication in 2012 is the “infographic,” with simple illustrations and lots of nuggets.

In common usage, a “nugget” can refer to something that’s bite-sized or to something that’s golden. In the world of communication, a nugget can be both.

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Write Shorter

Nora Ephron said her work as a reporter for the New York Daily News was important to her career because it was where she learned to “write short.”

What does it mean to write short? It means getting to the point, composing shorter sentences and paragraphs and eliminating unnecessary words and phrases—all vital to newspaper reporting.

Do you write short? Can you write shorter? Here are a few places where writing shorter can be useful in PR and other business applications:

  1. Headlines. You don’t need to tell the whole story in a headline. (My previous blog post is an exception.) Many media releases have headlines that could serve as entire opening paragraphs. Google search results cut off long headlines. Go to and browse through some of the releases that have wordy headlines. They provide examples of how not to do it.
  2. Subject lines. Similarly, a long email subject line will almost certainly be cut off in the inbox display, sometimes with comic results. Whether you are sending to thousands via Constant Contact or sending to one, simplify and shorten.
  3. Verbose releases. Unless you are being paid by the word, include the information and necessary details. Quotes from key individuals should be tightly edited and relevant. Provide contact information, including functioning weblinks, to all who desire more.
  4. Lengthy “boilerplates.” The purpose is to give basic information at the end of a release to those who are not familiar with the organization. Special language is required for certain releases that may impact publicly traded stocks. But some boilerplates read like an advertisement, which is unnecessary.
  5. Twitter posts. The limit is 140 characters. But if you want your tweet to be easily “retweeted,” make sure it totals less than 140. If you add “RT @davidcraigstl:” that adds 18 characters. To allow retweeting without editing, tweet shorter.

Writing shorter can be a challenge. But you can do it.

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Always Leave Them Wanting More

It’s a timeless showbiz axiom and it applies to what you and I do everyday. Can most of the messages you communicate be edited without affecting their overall meaning? Yes.

Whether your message is a question or answer left on voice mail, a media release, a Youtube video, a marketing email or a blog post, it can almost always be trimmed. Even a text message reply of “ok” can be shortened to “k.”

It’s not always easy to gauge the proper length of any communicated message, but a shorter message has a greater likelihood of being heard, read or watched. It may also be more likely to be understood, because you focus on the heart of the message, rather than side issues.

Will these shorter missives leave questions unanswered? Yes. That’s why you provide links to more detailed information. That’s why you may wish to post a 10-minute video to provide deeper insight than your 90-second video offers. That’s why you continue your thoughts in your next blog post.

When you “leave them wanting more,” make sure you make it possible for “them” to obtain “more.” The “more” may be the info you share on your website (via links in your release or email) or answers you provide in a phone call.

An article on writing in the 3/10/12 Wall Street Journal suggests that writers self-edit and offers the idea that “cutting words is always beneficial and often necessary.” Think about that when you are writing today.

As Reader’s Digest proved for decades, you can deliver economically written content without destroying the essence of the message.

Want “more?” Read my January 25, 2012 post “10 Ways To Communicate Better In Your Writing.”

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