Sometimes I end up writing long sentences full of unnecessary or “big” words – it’s a bad habit left over from my student days, when papers needed to meet a word limit or when I wanted my teachers to think I was smart. As writer-designers, our job is not to make ourselves – or even Habi! – look impressive or intelligent; our job is to clearly communicate the story. If we do that well enough, then the story should speak for itself.
Here’s how I reduce the clutter in my writing:
- Think about the purpose. What do I want to say? What do I want my reader to walk away knowing after reading what I wrote?
- Read your sentence or paragraph out loud. If you find yourself stumbling over words or saying too many things without taking a breather or a pause, you probably need to find a simpler way to communicate.
- Strip your sentences or paragraphs to its cleanest components. Remove every word that serves no function, replace long words with short words, break sentences down to communicate one thought at a time.
You may have a different way of reducing the clutter in the above sentence but here’s how I did it:
- At first glance, we can shorten this sentence by not enumerating the stakeholders but my intention was to show the diversity of the people we worked with.
- Participatory co-design is redundant – co-design is already participatory! – but co-design by itself might be a technical term with implications that can be unclear to the reader so I opted to use “collaborative design process” instead.
Reducing clutter isn’t just about shortening sentences; it’s about cleaning up a sentence so that it says exactly what you need it to say.