Posted by: wordsmithsuk | October 16, 2013

Writing concisely


However accurate, relevant and timely the information in your business document, it will not create the desired impact if Woman-at-laptopit is not also concise. Nowadays people don’t have time to read long-winded pieces of text, so you must try get to the heart of the matter quickly with the minimum of words.

Tips for editing

When editing your draft you can apply a number of techniques to make your writing shorter.

  • Take out the padding
  • Reword ‘it is’, ‘there are’ sentences
  • Cut redundant pairs
  • Delete unnecessary qualifiers
  • Reduce prepositions
  • Replace whole phrases with single words

Take out the padding

Some writers get into the habit of padding their sentences with unnecessary preamble. In most cases the first few words can be deleted from sentences such as the following.

  • It goes without saying that most landlords welcome tenancy reform plans.
  • Please note that most landlords welcome tenancy reform plans.
  • As a matter of fact, most landlords welcome tenancy reform plans.
  • It seems that most landlords welcome tenancy reform plans.
  • Having said that, most landlords welcome tenancy reform plans.
  • In my opinion most landlords welcome tenancy reform plans.
  • In reality most landlords welcome tenancy reform plans

All the above can be edited to ‘most landlords welcome tenancy reform plans’.

The result is a clearer, shorter statement that means the same as the original.

Reword ‘it is’, ‘there are’ sentences

Sentences can often be made shorter and stronger by changing their passive reliance on ‘it is’ or ‘there are’. The trick is to substitute these weak patterns with strong verbs in the active voice.

  • Not: There are many factors contributing to the obesity epidemic.
  • Rather: Many factors contribute to the obesity epidemic.
  • Not: It is not known whether the vaccine will be effective.
  • Rather: We do not know whether the vaccine is effective
  • Not: It is expensive to upgrade computer systems.
  • Rather: Upgrading computer systems costs a great deal.
  • Not: There is a prize in every packet of cereal.
  • Rather: Every packet of cereal contains a prize

Look out for ‘there is/are’ or ‘it is’ and check whether you can re-write the sentence with a strong verb.

Cut redundant pairs

When the first word in a pair has roughly the same meaning as the second, choose one. Examples of redundant pairs include: full and complete, each and every, hopes and dreams, first and foremost, true and accurate, always and forever.

  • Not: Each and every attendee will receive a free bookmark.
  • Rather: Every attendee will receive a free bookmark.

Delete unnecessary qualifiers

Often we use unnecessary qualifiers to express our meaning. Common qualifiers include: actually, really, basically, probably, very, definitely, somewhat, kind of, extremely, practically.

Such qualifiers dilute your message and give the reader extra words to deal with. You can choose whether to delete the qualifier or to replace the qualified adjective with a single word that better captures what you want to say.

  • Not: December is Moscow is really cold.
  • Better: December is Moscow is freezing.
  • Not: The theme of community is very important in Russian literature.
  • Better: The theme of community is predominant in Russian literature.
  • Not: In recent years the Electoral College has become very controversial
  • Better: Recently the Electoral College has become controversial.
  • Not: The majority of children think that many puppies are generally quite cute.
  • Better: Children think that puppies are cute.
  • Even better: Children like puppies

By deleting unnecessary qualifiers, you can often cut one or two words per sentence.

Reduce prepositions

Overuse of prepositions (words like ‘in, ‘for’, ‘at’, ‘on’, ‘up’, ‘down, ‘to’ , with’ and so on) can make a sentence long and unclear. Try circling the prepositions in your draft and see whether you can eliminate or rewrite them without losing meaning.

  • You can substitute an adverb for a prepositional phrase: ‘The minister responded to the allegations with rapidity ‘ becomes ‘The minister responded rapidly to the allegations‘.
  • You can often delete a preposition from a verb with no loss of meaning: ‘He met with his solicitor last week‘ becomes ‘He met his solicitor last week‘.

Replace whole phrases with single words

Many commonly-used phrases can be replaced with single words. These phrases give the a formal tone and detract from the meaning.  You can replace the following common phrases with because, since, or why:

  • The reason for
  • Due to the fact that
  • In light of the fact that
  • Given the fact that
  • Considering the fact that

You can replace the following common phrases with  if:

  • In the event that
  • Under circumstances in which

You can replace the following common phrases with must or should:

  • It is necessary that
  • Cannot be avoided.

Writing discipline

When I have finished writing something I challenge myself to cut the number of words by at least 10 percent. For example, if the piece is 500 words, I aim to cut at least 50 words. I am always astonished by how easy it is to use fewer words.

Here’s an example:

  • Bob would really like to get his ideas across in writing in a lot fewer words.
  • Bob wants to write concisely.

In the example above, I reduced 13 words to 5.

Here’s another:

  • Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me by telephone or by email.
  • Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

In the example above, I reduced 22 words to 10.

For more tips on business writing, check our audio resource ‘Effective Business Writing for Success9780954886035

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Responses

  1. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your
    weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself?

    Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to
    see a great blog like this one these days.


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