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I’m wondering how to shorten a USD fork about 3-4”. I know you can do internal lowering via spring cut and spacer. Is it possible to shorten the fork itself by cutting the external fork body and then putting in a shorter spring without a spacer?

Are there any tradeoffs when considering either way? I’m asking because I might want to use a pair of full size dirt bike forks for a dual sport. I’m short so prefer the lower seat height, especially when on the street. Could be going from 37-38 to 34-35 inches seat height.

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Well any OEM motorcycle fork is usually designed and fitted with springs matching an average rider weight-height. In your case i assume that your weight is also less than the average so just by cutting the spring 3-4" (maybe 15-20% of overall length) you will lower your fork but also you will make your forks way stiffer. To prevent a 3-4" cutting which would change drastically the spring behavior you should additionally consider to lower the clamping position of your outer (top) fork tubes by your handlebar plates so you will be able to remove less of the spring length.

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