If we begin with why we're writing something, that directs us to some basic and underlying reasons for cutting.
Whatever our purpose in writing, I'm assuming we want to share something with the reader. Maybe an idea, a way to solve a problem or even a problem we face. Whatever the reason, I'm also making the assumption that we want our reader to understand what we're writing.
We often set ourselves apart from our readers because we write from our position of understanding, not taking into account it might not be the same as theirs. I'm not advising that we talk down in any way, more that if there is the chance of confusion in the words we choose, we make it as clear as we can.
Years ago when I trained staff in one of my library jobs I asked a new assistant to file some slips in alphabetical order. Crystal clear instructions you might assume as indeed I did. Surely everyone understands alphabetical.
It wasn't to her since she'd worked in an office which had a completely different understanding from ours of what ABC meant. Taught me a substantial lesson.
The importance of clarity in writing
So if our goal is sharing, then we have to be clear. My business writing mentor told me he often let his 9 year old read his drafts. If they struggled, he went back and reworked. Even complex ideas can be expressed simply if we're prepared to think it through.
One other rule he had was to restrict the number of ideas in a sentence - to one. Often we fill our text with so many ideas that the reader suffers overwhelm. Like standing in front of a supermarket shelf and having twenty choices available.
Maybe you're seeing that what I'm suggesting is a paring down. Do we need that extra sentence? That paragraph that you really like but when looked at adds nothing to your text. Acts only as the chocolate sprinkles on top of the cherry on top of the icing on the cake.
For the reader the cake might be substantial enough in itself.
In these days of Twitter at 140 characters and all too short attention spans, we need to focus on what's most important to share.
In our weekend newspaper, they ask authors to contribute a complete story in 140 characters. All the writers show flair and invention... because they have to stick to the number, no additions allowed.
As my dictionary defines it, 'superfluous - unnecessary, especially through being more than enough.'