FROM THE EDITOR
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Is Your Writing Too Wordy? These 4 Tips Can Help
By Susan Weiner
Are you worried that your writing is too longwinded, so it will turn away readers or prevent them from understanding you? I have some tips drawn from my experience as the NAPFA Advisor’s editor and as a blogger on good financial writing.
1. Measure how wordy you are now. Use Microsoft Word’s readability statistics to find your average words per sentence, sentences per paragraph, and grade level. Or use the free Hemingway App to get your grade level. This establishes a baseline from which you can try to improve. In this instance, you want a lower grade level—not a higher one! The higher your level, the harder you’re making your readers work to grasp your message.
2. Cut flab. Start at the big-picture level by cutting unnecessary paragraphs and sentences. Then look at the details. You can often cut adverbs and adjectives without obscuring your meaning. Another technique is to use pronouns to substitute for some long terms—for example, write “it” instead of repeating “the asset allocation process.”
3. Use automated tools. Tools like Grammarly can sometimes identify wordiness and suggest edits. I use the paid version, but the free version is probably good enough for most writers. I imagine that some of you are experimenting with using artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT to edit your writing. Just remember that all of these automated tools make mistakes. Good human judgment is essential.
4. Get advice from an editor or a member of your target audience. Every writer can benefit from a second set of eyes (which is why I’m so glad to have NAPFA Advisor Assistant Editor Kevin Adler working behind the scenes on this magazine).
From a professional editor, you can expect input such as deleting flab and polishing your content.
From nonprofessionals, you can get judgment about whether your writing makes sense. To get more mileage out of readers like this, don’t ask them, “Do you understand?” Instead, ask them to summarize your main point in their own words. That shows whether they truly understand.
Don’t have anyone you can ask for help? Put your writing aside overnight, or even for an hour, so you can approach it with fresh eyes.