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How to cut copy

Lean copy is more likely to grab and keep our attention, and prescribed advertising formats are a challenge, from SoMe captions to pre-rolls. Part of our Copywriter craft is to remove excess without sacrificing impact or tone. Not easy. But, once your copy's squeezed tight, how can you get it even leaner? Here are six tips.

1. Link words — “we have” can be “we've”. You only lose two characters and a space, but a) maybe that's all you need and b) over a few pages it adds up (contractions are less formal, so for official text, or a more formal tone, probably best to keep words apart).

2. Abbreviate words — for example, “Approximately” could be “Approx.” or “Copenhagen” could be “CPH”. And, of course, “for example” could be “e.g.” (again, these shorter versions are less formal, so look at context).

3. Use shorter synonyms — for example, “the pie was absolutely delicious” (32 characters with spaces) could be “the pie was really tasty” (24 characters with spaces). But, “the pie was super nice” (22 characters with spaces) while shorter, could be too casual. It's about cutting the length until you feel the meaning or tone change. "The pie was nice" is a full 50% shorter, but has lost some enthusiasm. If I'd spent all day baking, I'd prefer 100% praise!

4. Rephrase — “the dog of the man” (18 characters with spaces) can be “the man’s dog” (five characters less). “Don’t lose” (10 characters with spaces) could be “keep” (you lost six characters). Or “make text shorter” (17 characters with spaces) does exactly that as “shorten text” (12 characters with spaces). Some character killers only appear after a few reworks. Keep at it.

5. Step away from the keyboard — at the 'business end' of copywriting you're tweaking punctuation, editing text, reordering content, squeezing in new information or removing large chunks at the last minute. This mental gymnastics is taxing. It's important to stay calm and positive. When brain fog sets in, and you're sweating over a semi colon, stop. Do something else. Other work or no work at all. Then try again. The break reboots your brain so it can figure it out.

6. Ask a fellow copywriter to cut it — nothing beats a fresh pair of eyes. They see things yours can't. Often, you're too familiar with a text, too in love with a word, too tired, or too busy predicting a client's reaction. In general, a 'finished' piece of copy can be cut by 20%. There're always characters to cull. You, or someone else, just has to find them.

Bonus tip — when writing for a layout, find solutions with your Art Director or Designer. Usually, you can safely kern fonts to -5 or more and keep legibility. You could use lower-case letters (if context allows), replace "and" with "&", or even try a font made to save space (and ink) such as Gerard Unger's Gulliver. Making copy fit a layout is all about teamwork. Good luck!

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McNally Unlimited © 2020

McNally Unlimited © 2020