trapeze 1.jpg
Twenty-three years ago, I was a single mom, working by day as an economist and a synchronized trapeze performer for Cirque Du Soleil at night. The other day I found myself reminiscing about my former career in Las Vegas as I took an acorn squash out of the oven. It’s hard to know when an acorn squash is cooked without taking it out of the oven and poking it. I like to use a very large fork to do the poking, but my kitchen drawers are always a mess, so I usually have to poke the squash with a knife. I spent a lot of time poking objects when I was a kid living in Utah with my grandparents. My grandfather was American and my grandmother was Cuban, and they met in New York and later settled in England.

Have you ever met someone who communicates like this? Do you find yourself wishing he/she would just GET TO THE POINT? One of the most important writing principles is getting to the point as quickly as possible–conciseness matters. Your reader doesn’t have a lot of time, and he/she is more likely to stay with you if you master this key writing principle. Here are nine strategies to help you unload the freeloader words.

1. Avoid unnecessary repetition.
Knowing the purpose of the piece and having good organization are useful towards accomplishing brevity. Technical writing is used to communicate essential information. It differs from creative writing because there is no need to set a mood or develop characters. In other words, technical writing is supposed to be direct and purposeful. Include only necessary information. Avoid excessive detail, yet be complete. Employing effective organization helps avoid unnecessary repetition too. If you find yourself writing, “as I mentioned previously,” stop. Go back and collect your related ideas. Grouping similar ideas helps with brevity.

2. Omit needless words. This is a bit of an art, but it can be mastered with practice. Consider these:  


Instead of


the reason for

for the reason that

due to the fact that

because, since

it is crucial that

it is necessary that

must, should

at this point in time


3. Think of words that are often paired but only one is needed. 

Completely finish          past memories                  each individual                  tiny little

Important essentials      future plans                       unexpected surprise      free gift

4. Also, there are many specific words that imply their general categories. Usually it is possible to drop the more general word.

Large in size        heavy in weight       of a bright color             of a strange type

5. Watch for verbs smothered in nouns.
Word endings such as ion, sion, tion, ing, ance, ency, ant, meant, and ent hide a verb by changing it into a noun or an adjective–which requires you to add another verb to complete your sentence.

Examples:         The researcher undertook implementation of the new guidelines

                              The researcher implemented the new guidelines


                              The committee made the decision to cancel the contract.

                              The committee decided to cancel the contract.

6. Use the active rather than the passive voice.

Example:             The experiment was conducted by the research group.

                                The research group conducted the experiment.

7. Don’t state the obvious. For example, many students come to me to review their cover letters, and frequently the first sentence begins: I am writing to you because I am interested in the position you advertised. If the reader is holding your document, it is obvious you wrote something. Cut to the chase, and state your point. Your writing will be more lively and engaging if you do.

Similarly, I believe, I think, I feel, in my opinion are also rarely needed. They are the words of a timid writer, and they are assumed because YOU are the writer.

8. Get rid of meaningless modifiers. Kind of, sort of, somewhat, personally, generally, actually, are all usually unnecessary and add little or nothing to the meaning.

9. Remove There is/There are as the start of a sentence. Notice when you cut there is or there are from the beginning of a sentence a shorter more vibrant sentence emerges.

These nine strategies are just a few of the many you can use to achieve conciseness. The most important first step is to concentrate on how each word works to contribute to the meaning of the sentence, and how each sentence contributes to the effectiveness of the paragraph, and finally, how each paragraph contributes to the overall purpose. As you proofread, try to reduce your draft; a good rule used by many writers is this equation: 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%. William Faulkner supposedly said that in order to be an effective writer you must kill your darlings. Kurt Vonnegut said that you must have the guts to cut. I implore you to begin slaying and cutting today.    

This entry was posted in Six Steps to Becoming a Better Writer and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply