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Turning More into Less, More or Less

One of the important skills a Technical Writer needs is to be able to take long-winded sentences, cut out irrelevant, repetitive, and useless words to make the sentence shorter, thus making it easier for the reader to understand.


To communicate effectively, Technical Writers must be able to edit text for clarity and brevity.

When editing my own work, I sometimes pretend that the text awkwardly creeps across to the next page. The challenge is to use fewer words without changing the meaning of the sentence so that all of the text fits on one page - no re-formatting allowed. It's often easier to write an entire paragraph than it is to convey the same information in a single sentence, so this little game makes for tighter writing.

Knowing which words to cut and which to keep is a skill. Twitter provides a great training ground for improving in this area. With only 140 characters to get your point across there isn't much room for warbling. Increase the level of difficulty by always using full words, correct grammar and complete sentences.

For example, on 9 August 2012 I drafted this:
My fridge self-destructed. Coincidentally, the bottom 3 drawers of my stand-alone freezer work, but the top 2 drawers are cold but not freezing. Not fixing the freezer until my new fridge arrives.  [198 characters]
But tweeted this:
My fridge imploded. Coincidentally, top 2 drawers of my stand-alone freezer are cold but not freezing. Not fixing it til new fridge arrives. [140 characters]
The tweet, above, the one I eventually posted, says pretty much the same as the original and preserves its tone. Granted, I massaged the grammar a bit and cheated by using the numeral 2 and the word "til". Also, "Coincidentally" is not strictly required, but I wanted it in. Overall, it's still not a bad effort.

Just for the record, according to this article, you should never tweet a 140 character tweet
Because if you write a 140 character Twitter post, nobody can retweet it without editing it. And since people are lazy, you aren’t getting retweeted!
Apparently, the ideal tweet length = 140 - (the @ sign + your twitter handle + one space + RT). So for me that would be 140 - (@ykarp RT), which corresponds to: 140 - (1 + 5 + 1 + 2) = 131 characters.

The joke is that the definition of an engineer is someone who spends 20 years developing a technology that saves 20 seconds. From one perspective, it may not seem like a worthwhile pursuit, but the users of that technology will appreciate it. Just think of all the money spent and energy expended by hardware and software engineers to reduce operating system start-up times from 3 minutes to 30 seconds.

Sometimes, for the benefit of our readers, we have to invest time and effort improving the readability of a document by turning more into less, more or less.


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