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Edit This Post on Editing

Edit This Post on Editing

Edit This Post on Editing

    Readers of Tim Ferriss’s 2007 book The Four-Hour Workweek might be familiar with a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery that appears on page 65 of the book: “Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but no more to take away.”  This is especially evident in writing.  Free-writing is the process of assembling raw material, but careful editing is like sculpture or construction.  It is the process of taking unorganized material and fashioning it into something useful.  As people get more productive and as their time gets more valuable, it will become progressively more important to pack as much information into as little space as possible.  Here are a couple of editing steps that can help you write tighter, more lucid prose.

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    1.  Write a Reverse Outline. I learned this a few summers ago when I participated in an Academic Ladder Summer Writing Club.  Basically, you take your finished rough draft and then write an outline based on the draft.  This helps you identify repetition and redundancy, which then gives you what you need in order to move to step 2.

    2.  Eliminate redundant passages that repeat things you have said earlier in the draft unnecessarily.  Redundancy can be the sand in the gears of your rough draft.  Prose that was swift, fluid, and interesting gets dull fast when you’re making ineffective use of redundancy.  That isn’t to say that repetition isn’t useful, but a lot of times you might end up repeating yourself either because you can’t think of anything more interesting to say or because your thoughts are fundamentally disorganized.  So what do you eliminate, and how?

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    3.  Eliminate unnecessary pages and paragraphs.  It’s appropriate to begin the editing process with a chainsaw.  Editing that crappy first draft–and you should always give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft, no matter how bad it is, as long as you get it on paper–is not the time to be delicate.  There are probably large swaths of your draft that can be eliminated without reducing the quality of your final product.  I’ve gotten comments like this at conferences and from journal referees.  In one case, a conference commentator liked a paper I had written but suggested that I eliminate the first nineteen pages.  I received a revise-and-resubmit request on a journal article once suggesting that I eliminate the first fifteen pages.  And so on.  The idea that a piece of writing is good just because it is long might be appropriate for a sixth grade language arts class, but it is wholly inappropriate for serious writing.  Past a certain wordcount, the returns to additional words are sharply diminishing.

    4.  Eliminate unnecessary sentences.  Now it’s time to start being more careful.  You’ve eliminated redundant paragraphs, and now it is time to look within the essential exposition to see where you can clarify.  There is still likely to be some junk here that can be eliminated without compromising your message.  Your readers’ time is very scarce.  Don’t waste it.

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    5.  Eliminate words, then syllables.  Simple expression elucidates powerful thinking, and it has been said–though I forget by whom–that you should never use a ten-cent word when a five-cent word will do.  In the process you will clarify your analysis, clarify your own thinking, and do an important service for your readers.

    You’ve probably noticed, perhaps with irony, that this article is imperfect.  The last couple of times I have taught writing-intensive sections of economics 101, I have given students a bonus assignment in which I give them my own interpretation of the first writing assignment–the last couple of times it has involved Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions, if you’re curious–and asked them to grade my paper according to the rubric by which I grade their work in exchange for a few bonus points.  I think they have fun with it, it’s a nice way to let them peek behind the curtain, so to speak, and suffice it to say it is always fun and informative to read my students’ comments on my own work.  So here’s an exercise for everyone reading: what would happen this article look like if you applied the editing suggestions I gave you above to what I’ve written here?  If you take a shot at it, I would be interested in seeing the results either via email or in the comments.  Happy editing!

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    Art Carden

    Art Carden is an Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them

    How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them

    If I was a super hero I’d want my super power to be the ability to motivate everyone around me. Think of how many problems you could solve just by being able to motivate people towards their goals. You wouldn’t be frustrated by lazy co-workers. You wouldn’t be mad at your partner for wasting the weekend in front of the TV. Also, the more people around you are motivated toward their dreams, the more you can capitalize off their successes.

    Being able to motivate people is key to your success at work, at home, and in the future because no one can achieve anything alone. We all need the help of others.

    So, how to motivate people? Here are 7 ways to motivate others even you can do.

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    1. Listen

    Most people start out trying to motivate someone by giving them a lengthy speech, but this rarely works because motivation has to start inside others. The best way to motivate others is to start by listening to what they want to do. Find out what the person’s goals and dreams are. If it’s something you want to encourage, then continue through these steps.

    2. Ask Open-Ended Questions

    Open-ended questions are the best way to figure out what someone’s dreams are. If you can’t think of anything to ask, start with, “What have you always wanted to do?”

    “Why do you want to do that?”

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    “What makes you so excited about it?”

    “How long has that been your dream?”

    You need this information the help you with the following steps.

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    3. Encourage

    This is the most important step, because starting a dream is scary. People are so scared they will fail or look stupid, many never try to reach their goals, so this is where you come in. You must encourage them. Say things like, “I think you will be great at that.” Better yet, say, “I think your skills in X will help you succeed.” For example if you have a friend who wants to own a pet store, say, “You are so great with animals, I think you will be excellent at running a pet store.”

    4. Ask About What the First Step Will Be

    After you’ve encouraged them, find how they will start. If they don’t know, you can make suggestions, but it’s better to let the person figure out the first step themselves so they can be committed to the process.

    5. Dream

    This is the most fun step, because you can dream about success. Say things like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if your business took off, and you didn’t have to work at that job you hate?” By allowing others to dream, you solidify the motivation in place and connect their dreams to a future reality.

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    6. Ask How You Can Help

    Most of the time, others won’t need anything from you, but it’s always good to offer. Just letting the person know you’re there will help motivate them to start. And, who knows, maybe your skills can help.

    7. Follow Up

    Periodically, over the course of the next year, ask them how their goal is going. This way you can find out what progress has been made. You may need to do the seven steps again, or they may need motivation in another area of their life.

    Final Thoughts

    By following these seven steps, you’ll be able to encourage the people around you to achieve their dreams and goals. In return, you’ll be more passionate about getting to your goals, you’ll be surrounded by successful people, and others will want to help you reach your dreams …

    Oh, and you’ll become a motivational super hero. Time to get a cape!

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    Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

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