Trimming the Fat

Last month, I wrote a post focusing on the qualities of a solid writer (read “Be a Solid Writer”), which referenced a saying a professor of mine  often used — “trim the fat.”

I thought I’d focus an entire post on trimming the fact, after a PR student recommended the topic. I was helping the same student start a blog for her upcoming internship. She was looking for a balance between professional and casual writing, and I shared a few tips she said were useful. Maybe a few of you will think the same.

~a useful guide~
When I turned 21 a few years ago, a PRSSA National Committee colleague (Brandi Boatner) sent me a pair of books for my birthday while I was interning in Madison — a fun, Irish book and an editor’s book. I’d recommend the editor’s book, “Edit Yourself,” to anyone looking to learn how to make sentences pop. 
The book advises word replacements and omissions, which I use to trim needless words and phrases from my writing.

~snip, snip~
My former PRSA liaison shared an interesting tip that stuck with me, as I began editing newspapers and writing PR materials. The word “that” can be removed from almost every sentence (that) it’s used and still make sense — like this one. For the rest of this entry I’ll use “that” in parentheses to give you the idea. I’ve found (that) removing the word helps get to the point quicker, and it simply sounds more intelligent.

A phrase my PR professor loathed seeing in our papers was “due to the fact.” “Due to the fact” is the epitome of wordiness and carries no meaning whatsoever. If you’re looking for a connecting word, try “because” as a replacement. You will save your reader time and will retain his attention.

 

 

The most common place where I’ve seen fatty writing is the beginning of a sentence. Writing911.com calls these “warm-up phrases,” which we agree should be cut when editing a first draft. See Writing911.com’s suggestions below.

  • It has been found that . . .
  • It is well known that . . .
  • It is a fact that . . .
  • It can be said that . . .
  • It is evident that . . .
  • It is interesting to note that . . .
  • I wanted to let you know that . . .
  • I am writing to you today because . . .
  • I wish to take this opportunity to . . .
  • The purpose of this memo is to . . .
  • She is a person who . . .
  • The goal of the project is to . . .
  • The project is designed to. . .

Example:  Looking at “She is a person who hates waiting in line,” we can replace the warm-up phrase with “She” for a much more simple and meaningful sentence. “She hates waiting in line.” Poor girl… I feel bad for her now.

It sounds elementary, I know, but a lot of writing I see on a daily basis is filled with unnecessary fat. Give your writing a second look and apply these rules.

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3 thoughts on “Trimming the Fat

  1. Good points here. I often forget some of these rules, but I try to use them as often as possible. Thanks for the reminder.

    “Trim the fat” — did Dr. Norton say that? I remember hearing it a lot, but I can’t remember which professor said it. :P

  2. Ha — Yeah, Dr. N always used to tell us that, when we were doing our media kits in PR Writing and our campaign books in Project. It definitely stuck with me. Tommy and Fullerton also were big advocates of concise writing. Tommy would leave small comments to the side, and Fullerton would bleed his red pen all over the assignment. I miss them all!

  3. Good post. I love to write and am always looking for ways to be better. I may just pick up “Edit Yourself!”

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