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Conciseness

Summary:

This resource will help you write clearly by eliminating unnecessary words and rearranging your phrases.

Contributors:Ryan Weber, Nick Hurm
Last Edited: 2013-02-27 10:18:41

The goal of concise writing is to use the most effective words. Concise writing does not always have the fewest words, but it always uses the strongest ones. Writers often fill sentences with weak or unnecessary words that can be deleted or replaced. Words and phrases should be deliberately chosen for the work they are doing. Like bad employees, words that don't accomplish enough should be fired. When only the most effective words remain, writing will be far more concise and readable.

This resource contains general conciseness tips followed by very specific strategies for pruning sentences.

1. Replace several vague words with more powerful and specific words.

Often, writers use several small and ambiguous words to express a concept, wasting energy expressing ideas better relayed through fewer specific words. As a general rule, more specific words lead to more concise writing. Because of the variety of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, most things have a closely corresponding description. Brainstorming or searching a thesaurus can lead to the word best suited for a specific instance. Notice that the examples below actually convey more as they drop in word count.

Wordy: The politician talked about several of the merits of after-school programs in his speech

(14 words)

Concise: The politician touted after-school programs in his speech.

(8 words)

Wordy: Suzie believed but could not confirm that Billy had feelings of affection for her.

(14 words)

Concise: Suzie assumed that Billy adored her.

(6 words)

Wordy: Our Web site has made available many of the things you can use for making a decision on the best dentist.

(20 words)

Concise: Our website presents criteria for determining the best dentist.

(9 words)

Wordy: Working as a pupil under someone who develops photos was an experience that really helped me learn a lot.

(20 words)

Concise: Working as a photo technician's apprentice was an educational experience.

(10 words)

2. Interrogate every word in a sentence

Check every word to make sure that it is providing something important and unique to a sentence. If words are dead weight, they can be deleted or replaced. Other sections in this handout cover this concept more specifically, but there are some general examples below containing sentences with words that could be cut.

Wordy: The teacher demonstrated some of the various ways and methods for cutting words from my essay that I had written for class.

(22 words)

Concise: The teacher demonstrated methods for cutting words from my essay.

(10 words)

Wordy: Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood formed a new band of musicians together in 1969, giving it the ironic name of Blind Faith because early speculation that was spreading everywhere about the band suggested that the new musical group would be good enough to rival the earlier bands that both men had been in, Cream and Traffic, which people had really liked and had been very popular.

(66 words)

Concise: Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood formed a new band in 1969, ironically naming it Blind Faith because speculation suggested that the group would rival the musicians’ previous popular bands, Cream and Traffic.

(32 words)

Wordy: Many have made the wise observation that when a stone is in motion rolling down a hill or incline that that moving stone is not as likely to be covered all over with the kind of thick green moss that grows on stationary unmoving things and becomes a nuisance and suggests that those things haven’t moved in a long time and probably won’t move any time soon.

(67 words)

Concise: A rolling stone gathers no moss.

(6 words)

3. Combine Sentences.

Some information does not require a full sentence, and can easily be inserted into another sentence without losing any of its value. To get more strategies for sentence combining, see the handout on Sentence Variety.

Wordy: Ludwig's castles are an astounding marriage of beauty and madness. By his death, he had commissioned three castles.

(18 words)

Concise: Ludwig's three castles are an astounding marriage of beauty and madness.

(11 words)

Wordy: The supposed crash of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico aroused interest in extraterrestrial life. This crash is rumored to have occurred in 1947.

(24 words)

Concise: The supposed 1947 crash of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico aroused interest in extraterrestrial life.

(16 words)

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