How to cut back your copy

How to cut back your copy
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Look, I love me some words. Love ’em.
I like long ones, short ones, difficult to spell ones and rude ones.

But sometimes you have to STEP AWAY from the word pot.
Yes, put down that word and move quietly away.
Because some words add nothing but length to your copy.

Here are some examples of words you can cut the hell out of your copy:

Here are some examples of words you can cut the hell out of your copy:


Yes, it’s fine to use adjectives to make your meaning more precise, but be super cautious of those you find yourself using to make it more emphatic.

(See, I didn’t need that super, did I?)

The word very is a case in point.

If you see it in a sentence you’ve written, try leaving it out and see whether the meaning is changed.

The badgers were good may have more force than the badgers were very good.

Oh, and check out this article if you want to learn more about the evils of very.


Some words are long just for the sake of it. They don’t make you sound clever, they just make you sound like you can’t get to the point.

Here are a few examples:

  • Cutbacks (cuts)
  • Track record (record)
  • Large-scale (big) and
  • Weather conditions (weather)


Get rid of as many prepositions after verbs as possible:

  • People can meet rather than meet with
  • Companies can be bought and sold rather than bought up and sold off
  • Budgets can be cut rather than cut back
  • Plots can be hatched but not hatched up
  • Organisations should be headed by rather than headed up by chairmen
  • Markets should be freed rather than freed up
  • Children can be sent to bed rather than sent off to bed – though if they are to sit up they must first sit down
  • People can meet rather than meet with
  • Companies can be bought and sold rather than bought up and sold off

Stop with the FOR

Remember that you’ give stuff free, or for nothing, or free of charge but not for free. It’s not grammatically correct and I say POOP to those who argue the evolution of language makes using for free permissible.

It’s not permissible. Okay?


Other unnecessary words

Many words are often just plain redundant. For example:

  • A top politician or a top priority is usually just a politician or a priority
  • A major speech usually just a speech
  • A safe haven is a haven
  • Most probably and most especially are probably and especially
  • The fact that can often be shortened to That (That I did not do so was a self-indulgence)
  • Loans to the industrial and agricultural sectors are just loans to industry and farming

Say ‘no’ to community

Community is another word often best cut.
Not only is it usually unnecessary, it attempts to convey a sense of togetherness that may well not exist.


  • The black community means black people
  • The business community means business people
  • The homosexual community means homosexuals
  • The intelligence community means spies and
  • The international community, if it means anything, means other countries, aid agencies or, just occasionally, the family of nations

Say what you mean

Don’t beat around the bush (and don’t use clichés like beat around the bush). Just keep it plain and simple:

  • A heart condition is usually a bad heart
  • A near miss is probably a near hit
  • Positive thoughts presumably means optimism
  • Industrial action is usually industrial inaction, industrial disruption or a strike
  • A courtesy call is generally a sales offer or an uninvited visit
  • A substantially-finished bridge is an unfinished bridge
  • Someone with high name recognition is well known
  • Something with reliability problems probably does not work
  • If yours is a live audience, what would a dead one be like?

So in summary: be concise.

It’s pithy quote time

“As a general rule, run your pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigour it will give to your style.”

Sydney Smith

 “Her journalism, like a diamond, will sparkle more if it is cut.”

Raymond Mortimer – referring to Susan Sontag



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