Whether you’re writing fiction, essays, or even an email, concise writing makes a piece stronger and tighter. When you write concisely, you improve the pacing and communicate your points more clearly. Your writing becomes faster and easier to read. Overall, writing concisely makes your writing sound better. Concision can be hard to accomplish, though. Often, it’s tempting to throw in a handful of words and hope one of them hits the mark, rather than select a single word deliberately and carefully. Sometimes you may not even recognize your own wordiness. These five tips will help you not only identify wordiness in your own writing, but address it as well.
- Avoid passive voice
Although passive voice is not grammatically incorrect, it can lead to unnecessary wordiness and confusion. Passive voice occurs when you make the object the start of the sentence. Take, for example, the sentence, “The world was changed by me,” compared to the more active construction, “I changed the world.” Even in this short, simple example, the word count goes from six to four. Not only does passive voice makes sentences longer and more confusing than they need to be, but it can change the meaning itself. In passive voice, it’s easy to omit the end of the sentence, leaving the example statement at “The world was changed.” Passive voice obscures the actor, potentially altering the interpretation of the entire sentence. Instead, try to use active construction. Not only will active phrasing improve the clarity and pacing of your writing, but it will return the focus to your subject.
- Avoid repetition
Like passive voice, repetition distracts the reader from the point of your writing. Watch for repetition both conceptually and on a sentence-level. You don’t need to repeat the same thoughts over and over. Trust that your reader will understand you the first time. Look for redundancy within your sentences, too. In the sentence, “Ultimately, she claimed control in the end,” for instance, the beginning of the sentence repeats the idea at the end. Streamline your writing by cutting words that aren’t necessary.
- Replace abstract nouns with verbs
Abstract nouns tend to complicate and confuse the meaning of your writing. Compare the phrase “He came to the conclusion that…” with “He concluded.” By using the verb form, you make the sentence shorter and more digestible, as well as more understandable. “Conclusion” lacks a concrete, tangible meaning. “Concluded,” though, offers a finite action. Not only will adding verbs make your writing more concise, but it will make it more specific, too.
- Avoid adverbs
Though this tip might seem like a writing cliché, it sticks around for a reason. Despite instances where adverbs might be helpful and even necessary, adverbs also have the potential to weigh down your writing. Stephen King argues, “Adverbs, like passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind… With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly.” Instead of tacking on adverbs to the ends of your sentences, try to make your meaning apparent on its own.
- Read your work out loud
Although this tip doesn’t address your writing directly, it can still improve your conciseness. When you read your story out loud, you get a feel for how you would say the ideas if you were having a conversation. Automatically, you will cut out unnecessary words. Incorporating your speaking voice into your writing will make the words flow in a natural, succinct style.
Each of these five tips will not only make your writing more concise but will improve the clarity, specificity, and overall impact, too. One caveat—there are always exceptions. Consider Stephen Pinker’s warning in his writing guide The Sense of Style: “The advice to omit needless words should not be confused with the puritanical edict that all writers must pare every sentence down to the shortest, leanest, most abstemious version possible… That’s because the difficulty of a sentence depends not just in its word count but on its geometry.” Conciseness still comes as your best judgment. In the end, you are the writer, and you decide what to write and how to write it.