Use Concision to Write Smarter and Better, Now

Clear writing always matters. But in the middle of crisis, it really matters. Inboxes are stuffed with virus related updates, well-wishes, and discount offerings. Somehow, though, managers need to reassure teams, companies need to connect with customers, and governments need to offer guidance.

Clarity means getting your meaning across with precision and accuracy. Think about it like this: the degree to which the idea in your head aligns with what your audience hears. That’s clarity. Yes, empathy and tone matter. But these dull with a muddled message.

To immediately make your writing clearer, start with concision.

Concision is the art of reducing wordiness and expressing ideas compactly. It’s a function of time (yes, it’s harder to write shorter) and skill. Most professionals want to be precise; however, they misunderstand that more words do not make writing better. Concision reduces redundancy and superfluity – without affecting precision.

For my tech clients and undergrad students, I recommend these quick concision tactics.

Trim words that add nothing

The Naval Postgraduate School’s Graduate Writing Center suggests that concision is “…using more words than necessary to communicate a point.” Basically, words that add nothing. They offer these phrases as examples:

  • Absolutely essential”: “essential” implies “absolute”
  • Advance warning”: a warning by definition occurs in advance
  • Added bonus”: a bonus is always something additional
  • Alternative choice”: these words serve equivalent functions; we only need one

Add action back into your verbs

Look at the example below:

“The company’s expenses are put through an exhaustive review, after which point our finance team can make a recommendation on cost savings opportunities.”

The verb phrases here are “are put” and “make a recommendation.” But they don’t clearly show what’s happening here — basically, reviewing and recommending.

These nouns are prime candidates to become action phrases. This adds punchiness, clarification, and reduces word count.

Figure out which words are essential and fold action into them:

  • …are put through an exhaustive review ” shortens to “are reviewed
  • …make a recommendation” shortens to “recommend
  • …after which point” shifts to “then

The resulting sentence might read:

“Finance can recommend costs savings after company expenses are reviewed.”

Use an everyday equivalent, if one exists.

Somewhere we learned that big words – and more of them – mean sophistication. This is pretentious and adds stickiness.

From my friends at Copyblogger:

  • Use instead of utilize
  • Near instead of close proximity
  • Help instead of facilitate
  • Start instead of commence

Sticky sentences bog readers down. When you turn up the cognitive work to read a sentence, you redirect readers’ brain power from understanding to interpretation. It’s a subtle, but nasty distraction. George Orwell calls everyday language one of his six rules for clear writing. It “gets us closer to clear, specific, concrete language,” he says.