Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Editing to Meet Page Limits

We’ve all finished a memo or brief only to realize it is WAY too long. If you’ve edited your statement of facts, explanation of the rule, and arguments but you’re still over your page limit, these tips should help you eliminate excess words and phrases and tighten up your writing.

1. Choose single-word names, if possible, and avoid honorific terms, like Mr. For example, use the first or last name only, such as “Smith” or “Jane” or “John,” instead of the full name.

2. Look to eliminate or reduce the number of prepositional phrases, if possible. Prepositional phrases often add bulk but not meaning.

The Smiths were walking across the street on their way to eat lunch when they were struck by a car driven by Jones

Jones’ car struck the Smiths as they were crossing the street.

(I also eliminated passive voice.)

3. Use active voice rather than passive voice. Look for sentences in which the true subject has something done to it rather than doing something itself. Double check forms of the “to be” verb (is, are, am, was, were, has been, had been, etc.) followed by a past participle (usually a verb that ends in –ed)—these usually signal passive voice.

The Smiths were struck by Jones.

Jones struck the Smiths.

The court held that the plaintiff was injured by the defendant.

The court held the defendant injured the plaintiff.

(I also removed the prepositional phrase.)

4. Prefer possessives. You’ll significantly reduce the word count by modifying phrases to create possessives when doing so doesn’t change the meaning.

The beer glass, thrown by Jones, struck the car owned by Smith.

Jones’ beer glass struck Smith’s car.

5. Remove extraneous phases. Phrases such as “the fact that” can often be removed without changing the meaning

The fact that the defendant was a minor on the date he committed the crime is irrelevant.  

Defendant’s youth on the date of the crime is irrelevant.

6. Target paragraphs that overlap slightly onto another line. Try to remove just a few words to pull that paragraph up a line. Sometimes doing so will actually pull your paragraphs up two or three lines (because of the way Word spaces lines and pages).

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