Cut long words

Make copy easier to read, understand

Cut long words image

Trim words with the right tool Want to improve reading ease? Use these tools to cut long words. Image by Rich Bowen

Words too long? Here are four ways to reduce your average syllable or character count:

1. Eyeball your copy.

Scan for long words.

2. Substitute shorter words where you can.

A thesaurus can help. But don’t use Microsoft Word’s, which seems capable only of identifying longer words as substitutes. Instead, here are three I recommend:

And one of my favorite new tools is Thsrs (The shorter thesaurus). Enter a long word, like “ironic,” and it gives you a shorter word, like “dry” or “wry.”

Thsrs - the shorter thesaurus image

That’s what I am talkin’ about Thsrs is a thesaurus that returns only shorter versions of your longer word.

3. Pack the remaining long words with one- and two-syllable words.

The problem with most long words isn’t the words themselves, it’s the fact that people who use long words tend to use a lot of them in a row. Break up those multisyllabic pileups with shorter words.

4. Put your long words in a short sentence.

The top two predictors of readability are sentence length and word length. If your words are on the long side, keep your sentences on the short side.

  • Cut Through the Clutter

    Measure, monitor and manage clarity with a cool (free!) tool

    Would your message be twice as good if it were half as long? The research says yes: The shorter your piece, the more likely readers are to read your message, understand it and make good decisions based on it.

    Cut Through the Clutter

    But most communicators (and, let’s be fair, their reviewers) ignore the research and keep piling on the paragraphs. The result? “You’re not more informed,” writes Tom Rosenstiel, former media critic for the Los Angeles Times. “You’re just numbed.”

    Analyze your message for 27 readability metrics and leave with targets, tips and techniques for improving each one.

    So how long is too long? What’s the right length for your piece? Your paragraphs? Your sentences? Your words?

    At Cut Through the Clutter — our in-house clear-writing workshop — you’ll learn how to:

    • Analyze your message for 27 readability metrics — and leave with quantifiable targets, tips and techniques for improving each one.
    • Increase reading, understanding and sharing with five techniques for cutting your copy significantly.
    • Avoid discombobulating readers. Leave this workshop with 11 metrics for reducing sentence length and increasing comprehension.
    • Stop getting skipped. Find out how long is too long — and leave with three ways to shorten paragraphs.
    • Eliminate multisyllabic pileups from your copy. They’re the No. 1 predictor of poor readability.


Sources: Ann Wylie, Cut Through the Clutter, Wylie Communications Inc., 2005

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