Bracketing

I would put brackets around every component in a piece of writing that wasn’t doing useful work. Often just one word got bracketed: the unnecessary preposition appended to a verb (“order up”), or the adverb that carries the same meaning as the verb (“smile happily”), or the adjective that states a known fact (“tall skyscraper”). … Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the author’s voice. - On Writing Well

Almost everything I edit for the Mapbox blog shrinks between the first draft and the last. Granted, there are oxford commas and grammatical nitpicks to pick, but the leading type of bad writing is filler. Often it’s a learned instinct to fill the page, so you can hit a page requirement. That habit is destructive on the Internet where space and time are always scarce.

nitpickertool was the first software that helped identify bad habits in my own writing. I would write a blog post with the line:

In fact, it has been said that there is no pure functional programming

And it would identify ‘In fact’ as potential filler and ‘has been said’ as passive voice. Using retext-simplify, Mapbox’s English-checker catches these filler phrases. The rules are strict: we can’t write “It is”, “there are”, “be advised”, or “in terms of”. I was surprised that such strict rules could be followed precisely, but they can be and they work. Now, when I read the phrase “Note that” in someone else’s writing, I imagine whether the sentence would work without it — and it usually does.

Don’t fear the delete key.

Posted Mar 12, 2016 Tweet / Follow me on Twitter

Tom MacWright

I'm . I work on tools for creativity at Mapbox. This is where I write about technology and everything else.