Editing – Tutorial No. 3

Mercilessly butcher redundant sentences

This appeared on the website of a home security company:

One of the major problems faced by security companies and police is that 98% of all home and business alarms triggered are false alarms. Experience has shown that a high percentage of home and business alarms are triggered by insects, wind, animals, etc. rather than by intruders and as a result most alarm situations are not attended to by police.          60 words

If you see no problem here, take a few moments to reverse the order of the sentences:

Experience has shown that a high percentage of home and business alarms are triggered by insects, wind, animals, etc. rather than by intruders and as a result most alarm situations are not attended to by police. One of the major problems faced by security companies and police is that 98% of all home and business alarms triggered are false alarms.          60 words

Reversing the order of two- or three-sentence paragraphs can highlight an internal redundancy. And the original closing sentence often makes a better lead, once it’s edited. The original lead is now seen as embarrassingly redundant. Chop it swiftly off and chuck it far away. We’re left with this:

Experience has shown that 98% of home and business alarms are triggered by insects, wind, animals, etc., rather than by intruders. As a result most alarm situations are not attended to by police.  

Next, we’ll get rid of ‘…etc.’ on logical grounds. Other than ‘… insects, wind, animals …’, exactly what would trigger a burglar alarm? Then we’ll change the second sentence from passive voice (highlighted) to active voice:

Experience has shown that 98% of home and business alarms are triggered by insects, wind or animals, rather than by intruders. As a result police usually ignore them.            28 words

The paragraph is now less than half the length of the original, so it’s much easier to read. But it’s also more dramatic and involving.

See the video tutorial for another example of slimming an obese paragraph by reversing the sentence order and taking a knife to the redundant phrases.

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About Copymentor

Australian and US copywriter, creative director and author
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