By Alex Davis
Southern Tier Communications Strategies, LLC
Every word counts. Every character. Every punctuation mark. That’s especially true nowadays with our short attention spans. We must be concise and clear in our writing.
How do we produce a well-written, succinct email, article, report or whatever? Some believe writing must be verbose and flowery – with college-level vocabulary and clever turns of phrase that demonstrate … smartness, I guess.
7 Tips for Writing Concisely
Language can be simple and still impactful. Let’s keep these tips for writing concisely in mind.
1. Brevity Is Your Friend
Omit extra words, long words and unnecessary phrases. Get to the point. You waste your time and the reader’s attention trying to be too creative. In the end, “prodigious” means “big” and “parsimonious” means “cheap.”
Using too many words is called nominalization. For example, “He made an assessment of the project.” The better sentence could be, “He assessed the project.” This also gets to the point more quickly.
2. Use Simple Words, Not Complicated Words
Don’t rely too much on a thesaurus. Use words that you fully comprehend because others will likely understand them as well.
3. Know Your Audience
Whatever you write, know for whom you write. An article for a technological company newsletter is different from an email about an upcoming employee picnic. Ask yourself, “What does my audience need?”
4. Active vs. Passive Voice
The subject does the action in a sentence. “He wrote a story,” not “The story was written by him.” See the difference? Fewer words. Active voice makes the point more quickly and clearly.
5. Make Good Judgements with Qualifiers
A qualifier is “a word (such as an adjective) or word group that limits or modifies the meaning of another word (such as a noun) or word group,” according to Merriam-Webster.
- Quantity: some, most, all, none.
- Time: occasionally, sometimes, now and again, usually, always, never.
- Certainty: I guess, I think, I know, I am absolutely certain.
- Possibility: Could, may, likely, possible, probable.
- Necessity: Must, should, ought, required, have to.
- Relative quality: best, worst, finest, sharpest, heaviest.
These can make writing clunky if used too often.
6. Vary Sentence Length
Write short sentences. Write long sentences. A mix of the two moves the reader along. A string of long sentences makes writing dense and hard to follow. A string of short sentences could make your writing choppy.
Your writing is done. But you’re not. You wrote a draft, and now it is time to edit your work. Don’t be afraid to use your red pen. Review your work as many times as you feel necessary to get it right. (Note: I did not say perfect. Nothing is perfect.) And having someone else look over your writing is helpful, too. Another pair of eyes almost always gives helpful feedback.
Ready to Get Writing – Concisely?
The greatest writers use a succinct cadence that sings with simplicity. Writing concisely and clearly is useful in all applications. And it’s especially useful in the professional world where you have 300 words to make a point in a press release or 1,000 characters in a grant proposal.
Look for other ways to grow. Check out other content and follow other writers. You learn by reading. You learn by doing. You get better at writing by writing.
On your mark. Get set. Write!