Concise Writing Tips


Awareness of the following tips will facilitate the development of better, more concise writing. While this is not an exhaustive list of tips, those listed will be particularly helpful for many people.

1. Ask what purpose the words serve

In the sentence “He owned an array of paintings”, why do you need “an array of” when you can use “many” instead? Why is the sentence “He owned an array of paintings” superior to “He owned many paintings”? If you cannot find a good reason you can eliminate the existing wordiness.

2. Minimize use of cliches and idioms

Cliches are overused and predictable expressions, such as “a matter of time“, “without a care in the world“, and “goes to show“. Eliminating them is one of the main ways to become more concise. For example:

“His loss goes to show that you cannot win every match on talent alone.”
“His loss shows that you cannot win every match on talent alone.”

Idioms are expressions with meanings that are no deducible from those of the individual words composing them, such as “sick as a dog“, “few and far between“, and “a token of.” Like cliches, eliminating idioms facilitates concision. For example:

“He gave her the quilt as a token of appreciation.”
“He gave her the quilt in appreciation.”

3. Minimize use of the verb “to be.”

This verb typically shows the existence or condition of the subject and it is used as an auxiliary verb when forming the passive voice:

Present tense
I am | We are
You are | You are
He/She/It is | They are

Past tense
I was | We were
You were | You were
He/She/It was | They were

An effective method of avoiding “to be” is substituting -ed for was -ing. For example:

“They were expecting her to do better.”
“They expected her to do better.”

The suffix can also be eliminated:

“I am expecting her to do better next time.”
“I expect her to do better next time.”

4. Substitute prefixes for “not” where appropriate

By substituting prefixes like a-, dis-, im-, ir-, or un- for not, you eliminate an extra word and reduce the sentence length. For example:

“She is not organized.”
“She is disorganized.”

“The decision stood despite most knowing that it was not fair.”
“The decision stood despite most knowing that it was unfair.”

Additionally, there are regularly words not starting with one of these substitutes that express the meaning of the “not…” combination. For example:

“His writing was not improving.”
“His writing was stagnating.”

5. Do not overuse prepositions

Prepositions are words like “on” and “of” that follow nouns and pronouns and express a relation to another word or element in the clause, as in “The entrance of the building.” While they are an important part of good writing, removing them often facilitates concision.

For example, we often use “the…of the” to indicate possession, as in “they walked to the entrance of the building.” However, a more concise option is to remove “the….” and “of” while adding -‘s or -s’ to the object or subject. For example:

“They walked to the entrance of the building.”
“They walked to the building’s entrance.”

“She talked about the best parts of the trip.”
“She talked about the trip’s best parts.”

A similar approach is useable for prepositions like “at”, “in”, and “on” when they follow “the” and precede an object or subject. For example:

“He is the best player on his team.”
“He is his team’s best player.”

“She was the best debater in the tournament.”
“She was the tournament’s best debater.”

6. Study concision.

Many people do not write concisely because they don’t know more concise ways to express themselves, but if you study the list of concise substitutes listed on this site that will not be problematic.

7. Practice

Concise writing is a skill that takes consistent practice to develop. Try some of the exercises in the “Practice” section of this website and regularly implement what you learn.

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