Subtract to add meaning

This article is the sixth in a series. It was first published on July 6th 2020, via LinkedIn.

In these articles I’ve been sharing ideas about how to make both your writing and documents better. In my experience, there are a few key principles that will help you improve the quality of your output.

Principle #3 – Subtract

In my last article I touched on how easy it is to overload your document with too much content and recommended some techniques to help you avoid it. After putting these techniques into action, there’s a further step you can take.

Once you’ve applied the earlier principles and arrived at what could be considered a final document, you can ‘next level’ your work by going over it with a fine tooth comb and looking for opportunities to remove content. Whether it’s an unnecessary word, redundant sentence or superfluous graphic, you must cut as much as you possibly can.

In short, the key to applying this principle is delete, delete, delete!

Remember, there’s only so much information that your audience can process at one time. Your goal is to find the most efficient way of getting your point across. If you’re brutally honest with your review, you’ll find that there’s invariably content that doesn’t add anything of substance, but has been included out of habit or personal preference. Maybe you’ve included a graphic or image that looks nice, but is not actually essential to the story you’re trying to tell.

These content elements are holding you back. Far from adding to your message, they serve as a distraction.

Strip away anything that doesn’t result in the message being lost. The extra elements are a distraction…they take away meaning, rather than adding it.

One method I’ve often used to help me with this is to get my document to a ‘finished’ state and then sleep on it (easier said than done when you’re hurtling towards a deadline). Looking at it the next day with fresh eyes and a critical mind I’m always able to find bits of dead content that can be stripped away. Another approach would be to have a friend or colleague read it. Seek their input, but be mindful to filter out feedback that’s simply reflecting their own biases and preferences.

With a bit of practice, you can develop a real skill for eliminating the unnecessary.


Note: This article is the sixth in a series. Links to earlier articles are included below:

Author: Steven Macek

I learnt a long time ago that in order to grow it is necessary to step outside one’s comfort zone. As a person who craves growth and change this has led me to continually seek out opportunities to make myself uncomfortable, whether physically, emotionally or psychologically. The (Dis)Comfort Zone blog is a vehicle for cataloging those experiences.

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