The Editorial Apartment

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A copy editor’s challenge: The text message

Recently, I had a challenging project from a client. I had to condense a three to four sentence e-mail message into a 160-character, including spaces, text message. The text was to be sent to the client’s customers. Thirty-five characters were reserved for a standard intro and ending, so I actually had only 125 characters to work with.

As a copy editor, this is the ultimate editing task: editing to the point of using nonwords and often cutting down past telegraphic writing. It is a struggle to concede to using almost no punctuation and “words” like 2, b and u. What a terrible violation of English—especially in a business communication.

I did it, but not without cringing and offering five different options emphasizing various points of the original e-mail message, and sneaking in full words and correct punctuation where I could. An example:

COMPANY X Alert: Join the 2011 Annual General’s Dept. Call Feb 15 3:30p 310-123-4567 local 789-456-0123 intl Get leadership tips, tools! 2 unsubscribe txt unsub

This doesn’t look so bad, considering all the painful omissions I had to allow and the other seemingly important event details I had to exclude.

There’s an art to texting with a character limit, I realize. It’s a creative challenge. It’s an editing challenge. And with marketing communications, copy editors have to be open and flexible with the rules. When it comes to editing this kind of writing, wow, you really have to let go.