The Very Proud Copyeditor

For school, my 7-year-old had to read me a story and write a summary of it. She chose “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

As you might know, in the middle of the story, the very hungry caterpillar eats through an apple, two pears, three plums, four strawberries, five oranges, a piece of chocolate cake, an ice cream cone, a pickle, a slice of Swiss cheese, a slice of salami, a lollipop, a piece of cherry pie, a sausage, a cupcake, and a watermelon.

Kids have a hard time summarizing. My daughter wanted to write, “The very hungry caterpillar ate an apple, two pears, three plums, four strawberries, five oranges, a piece of chocolate cake, an ice cream cone, a pickle, a slice of Swiss cheese, a slice of salami, a lollipop, a piece of cherry pie, a sausage, a cupcake, and a watermelon.”

Not a very tight summary. After some discussion and deep breaths, we arrived at this: “The caterpillar ate lots of food.”

Now THAT’S a summary. Sure, it’s not as fun to read, but the assignment was to summarize, not to repeat.

When your readers want a summary, give them a summary. If you can say it in six words, don’t use 49 words.

Yes, this takes effort. As Mark Twain (allegedly) once wrote: “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead.”

Thanks to Dragonfly editor, Dave Nelson, for allowing us to share his LinkedIn post. 

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