When Content is King, Page Cutting Is an Art

When Content Is King

By Kenneth S. Merwin

Nearly every proposal I manage comes into production over the maximum page limit. Sometimes by a little, but often by a lot. So, what to cut? Every word was written and reviewed with care. The messaging is there. The content is great. The team must decide. But where to begin? There are four ways to cut page count: a reactive approach, selective editing, formatting tricks, and strategic cuts. But remember, content is king.

  • The reactive approach is fast, but it typically cuts the good stuff while leaving no value content. The team looks at a section, compares it to the target page count, sees it is over, and slashes. The integrating graphic is first to go. Good text hits the floor, and the once compelling section is barely compliant. But you are still not there, so the team moves on to the next section. Lather, rinse and repeat until you make page count. Avoid the reactive approach as it is like using a chainsaw, and the team risks killing the deal. Make time to implement the following techniques.
  • Selective editing is hard, but it has a twofold benefit. It cuts the page count and can make the proposal stronger. A careful read of the proposal reveals plenty of material that adds no value or is so poorly written you can cut it completely or replace it with shorter sentences. Target long section introductions full of unscored material. Decompose long paragraphs to reveal repeat sentences and paragraphs, plus stream of conscience writing. Switch from the passive voice to the present tense, active voice with actors doing things to cut and strengthen simultaneously. My favorite target is those very descriptive adjective strings. Killing one- and two-word widows at the of the paragraph shortens and strengthens the proposal, one line at a time.
  • The production team can use formatting tricks to minimize the whitespace and can typically cut that last half page. Whitespace is created when a graphic breaks in the middle of a page. Start on page one, move the text up as you go, working down to reclaim that last page. Right-sizing table columns can get you several lines. Roll up bulleted lists and short paragraphs with leading bolds to gain a few lines, but at the cost of readability. Consider moving data out of tables with excessive whitespace into text – it’s often a wash bit worth a try. Going from left to full justification can be used for a two- to three-percentage cut but at the cost of readability. Full justification compresses the text, making the uneven spacing between words hard to read – a sentence that breaks with a long word on the following line creates a ton of white space. Formatting does not cut or improve content.
  • Strategic cutting is the scalpel when editing and formatting fail. The team must stand back, examine the material, and make hard decisions. The content is solid and compelling. The messaging is there. You trimmed all the fat, but you are still over page count, and it is unlikely that additional editing and formatting will get you there. Now the team must make hard decisions and decide which great content must go. Cut and combine text-dense sections. It can save space and make the remaining content better. Marginal process graphics are good targets if the text describes the process in detail and the proposal has plenty of graphics. Tables are targets, too. You will likely hit the meat regardless of what you cut. The key is to be smart about what you cut and what you leave.

So how do you cut without sacrificing proposal quality and readability? You can achieve the page count goal with the reactive approach, but the results can easily go against you when cutting the wrong content. Selective editing is the most powerful tool as it can cut and improve content. Formatting tricks do nothing to improve the content and can reduce the readability of the proposal, but they can get you to the goal after you finish editing. Strategic cutting is the last step when all else fails and requires hard choices. Remember, when content is king, page cutting is an art.

Kenneth Merwin
Latest posts by Kenneth Merwin (see all)

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)