Self-editing: 7 words and phrases to cut from your web copy

self editing words and phrases to cut from web copy

Who would have thought that fish had anything to do with writing and editing? Well read on.

Fresh Fish Sold Here

He turned to the class. “You run a fish market. You want to get your sign as short as possible. You want to catch the readers’ attention and convey your message. Which words are necessary?”

Well, “here” is not needed. The location of the sign indicates that sales happen in that spot.

Fresh Fish Sold

That “sold” looks kind of silly now, doesn’t it?

Fresh Fish

Does the fact that the fish are fresh need to be conveyed? Would anyone say otherwise? “Smelly Fish” … “Old, Decaying Fish” ? …Nope.

We are left with:


So what’s your point I hear you ask?

Cut, Cut, Cut The Prose

The point is you communicate your message effectively when you cut out words that are not necessary. It’s about keeping your writing lean and clean.

Skilled editing is also about simplicity – how to write and edit text so your audience can understand what you want to say.

Eliminating superfluous words can help add punch and clarity to your web copy, which makes it cleaner and easier for your reader to follow.

You should always read over what you’ve written when you self-edit your work. So watch for these 7 words and phrases as you edit your work. Be ruthless and your writing will improve:

1. In order to. Completely unnecessary and I know I’ve been guilty of this one. It never occurred to me this was a useless phrase until I stumbled upon journalist and social media strategist Alexis Grant’s blog. Now it makes perfect sense. Alexis says whenever you see in order to in your copy, get rid of it. If you’re going to the café in order to get a coffee, the sentence can be tighter. Because you’re really going to the café to get a coffee.  Get rid of in order to because the sentence is dragging out more than it needs to.

2. Of the. These two words often slow the pace. The trick is to take an adjectival or possessive approach to the nouns. Take this:

the manager of the bank


the bank manager

The cover of the book


the book cover

The owner of the horse


the horse’s owner

Here are examples of another type of sentence in which the words of the can be eliminated:

One of the protesters at the site


a protester at the site

The indefinite article (a) already tells us more than one protester is at the site. If there was only one protester, we would use the definite article (the) and say the protester. If you’re unsure of what indefinite and definite articles are, be sure to click on the links.

3. How to avoid that. We can often do without the word that. Like of the, it slows the pace. She said that she had no plans to travel overseas reads better as She said she had no plans to travel overseas. In this context, that is superfluous.

HOT TIP: When you see or write the word that, try reading the sentence without the word. You will be surprised how often you do not need it.

4. Others. In many circumstances, the word is tautological. That means a word that says the same thing twice.

Consider this sentence:

A three-car crash killed two people and seriously injured four others in Los Angeles today. The word others is not needed. If the crash killed the other four, the sentence would begin: A three-car crash killed six people… The fact that they were injured tells us they were other people. It’s better to write: A three-car crash killed two people and seriously injured four in Los Angeles today.

In this example, the word others is superfluous.

5. Both. Again, this word can be tautological and is often over-used.

Both Mandy King and Heidi Shaw said they had worked for two years to raise money for their trip. We do not need the word both here because we have named the women – we know we are talking about both women. It is better to write: Mandy King and Heidi Shaw said they had worked for two years to raise money for their trip.

Check to ensure that you have not used both and others unnecessarily.

6. There were. Never start a sentence with There were… These words are not needed and there’s almost always a better way to phrase it.

Consider these examples that don’t work:

There were seven chairs in the room

There were nine people on the bus

There were only a few apples left.

Instead they should read like this:

Seven chairs were in the room

Nine people were on the bus

Only a few apples were left

These sentences without there were are shorter and have more energy.

7. Currently. Currently is never needed. Again, Alexis Grant made me realize this and I have been guilty of this one plenty of times. As Alexis explains currently is always redundant. You’re not currently working for a financial firm, you are working for a financial firm. If you’re working there, it’s obviously currently.

Do you use any of these words and phrases in your copy? What words do you look to cut when you’re self-editing?
*Source Editing Made Easy – Bruce Kaplan

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  1. Another awesome post Shae! I love how practical it is, you don’t just tell us a theory you explain it and give examples! 😀

    • Awww thanks Chris. I’m so glad you enjoy the articles. I always write them with practicality in mind because theory alone doesn’t cut it.

  2. Great article, this post deserves a bookmark. I’m guilty of many of these, so I’ll be printing this off and using this for future reference.


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