Concision and clarity made simple
More for less — that’s what concise writing is. When we can deliver rich meaning in fewer words, readers get excellent value.
I used to struggle to reduce my sentences to a manageable level, but I’ve discovered how to do it. All you have to do is sharpen your mind and use that delete key.
English is malleable enough that we can mold our sentences into digestible bites. Also, precise vocabulary allows us to imply deep meaning with few words.
Here’s why readers prize concision.
- It saves them precious time.
- They contribute more meaning to the reading process (less ‘telling’ from the author).
- They see concise writers as masters of the language.
Of course, how many words you use depends on the context of your work. For instance, academic papers would struggle to explain complex studies in brief. And the goal of respected journalists is not to rush through their news analysis. But, we all want more for less.
Essentially, writers should ask the question, ‘Would the reader benefit from this being shorter?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ then, as writers, we must try.
7 Ways to Cut the Fluff
Some prepositions add little value:
❌ Let’s meet up and plan out which cafes we want to try out first.
✔️ Let’s meet and plan which cafes to try first.
Prepositional phrases can clutter sentences too.
❌ He dropped out of college on account of the fact that it was necessary for him to support his family.
✔ Shorter: He dropped out of college to support his family.
Tip: Eliminate prepositions that do not alter the meaning of verbs.
Cut prepositional phrases and combine sentences if it can save words.
2. Passive Voice
We’ve all heard this one before. Using the active voice is clearer and more engaging for the reader. It reduces the word count too.
❌ Trouble is caused when residents disobey regulations that have been established for the safety of all.
✔ Disobeying safety rules causes trouble.
Tip: Use the active voice where possible.
3. Nominal Forms
These are nouns (longer ones) that have another word form (e.g., transformation/transform). They often use the following suffixes: “-ation,” “-ance,” “-mant,” “-ment,” “-ence” and “-sion.”
❌ The avoidance of the transformation of his dietary habits caused him undue flatulence.
✔ If he transformed his diet, he’d be less flatulent.
Tip: change nominal forms into verbs or adjectives.
4. Redundant Words
We blurt out redundant words when speaking, as we think they’ll add more clarity. But in our writing, they simply don’t belong.
❌ At 12 noon, teams will collaborate together for the new beginning of the project.
✔ At noon, teams must collaborate to begin the project.
Other examples of words and phrases to avoid: anonymous stranger, close proximity, a total of, circular shape, descend down, end result, each and every, merge together, new innovation, one and the same, sink down, still persists, period of, uncommonly strange, revert back.
Tip: examine every word to ensure it adds meaning or has a grammatical function.
5. Negative Phrasing
We should reword sentences that contain two negative features.
❌ It is improbable that the rates will not be raised next year.
✔ The rates will probably increase next year.
Tip: phrase ideas using positive/opposite wording.
6. Adverbs and Adjectives
Qualifying adverbs often add little meaning to a sentence.
❌ The amount was exactly five pounds.
✔ The amount was five pounds.
Common qualifiers include: actually, completely really, quite, basically, probably, very, definitely, somewhat, kind of, extremely, and practically.
Adjectives are often more powerful when used sparingly. For example, a writer shouldn’t say an event was “shocking,” but explain why it shocked people.
❌ The grand old house was located in a run-down, dangerous neighborhood.
✔ The house was grand; the neighborhood was run-down.
Tip: remove adverbs where possible. Avoid using more than one adjective per description.
7. Use the Shortest Form
This idea applies to nouns (e.g., ‘use’ not ‘utilize’) and verbs. Nowadays, it’s more common to find verbs in simple tenses in narrative writing. Even when the meaning is different, simple tenses offer a cleaner feel.
❌ They went walking along the path around the frozen lake and saw a couple who were skating.
✔ As they walked along the path, a couple skated on the frozen pond.
Tip: Downgrade verbs and nouns to their simplest form (as long as this does not alter the meaning).
Although there are more drastic ways to reduce text, this article focused on how to achieve concision at the sentence level. Hopefully, you’ll find this useful for the fine editing of your work, and it will allow you to produce razor-sharp blogs. Remember, readers value concision.
All examples were crafted by the author. Some of the methods discussed were drawn from the following sources:
- Do I Make Myself Clear? by Harold Evans.
- Politics and the English Language by George Orwell
- Writing Concisely, UNC Chapel Hill
- Eliminating wordiness, Purdue OWL
Philip Charter is a writing coach from the UK who works with multilingual content writers. He is the author of two collections of short fiction and Fifteen Brief Moments in Time, a novella-in-flash.