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Sharpen your prose

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in Office Communication,Workplace Communication

In their new book, college professors and brothers Steven and Victor Cahn take those who write up their work through a step-by-step editing process.  

For example, they dissect the introduction to an essay about teaching mathematics. Although we won’t reproduce the full passage and the process here, a few simple tricks stand out:

  • Delete “it is important to recognize” and “the fact that.” Of course it’s important if you’re writing about it, and you never should have to state that a fact is a fact.
  • You can cut virtually every adverb and adjective, including “virtually.”
  • “A set of,” “a group of,” “a series of”—in general, any of these can be deleted.
  • Think hard about whether you need the modifier “distinctive.” And “unique” means the only one.
  • “Any and all” can be reduced to “all.”

In the book, such careful parsing reduces two long sentences to a short one.

— Adapted from Polishing Your Prose: How to Turn First Drafts Into Finished Work, Steven Cahn and Victor Cahn, Columbia University Press.

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