Concise Writing: Why Does It Matter?
by James Corgin (used with permission)
Post-modern society has witnessed a tendency to simplify everything it can. We are lost in a sea of unnecessary information. Research has found that we use only 37% of the information taught at school. Of course, there’s also the continuous flow of advertisement and social media updates that inundate us.
That is why information overload is the problem of the 21st century. Some years from now, scientists will probably find a way to decrease its effect, but for now we have only one option – to communicate more concisely. The definition of concise writing is simple: use as few words as possible to convey your message. Below you will find some advice on how to slim down your word count.
Fillers You Should Drop for Concise Writing
If you intend to make your writing concise, avoid these words. We have grouped them into four categories for your convenience. In most cases, these English fillers are superfluous. Sometimes, however, fillers create a necessary rhythm or make the text sound “natural,” so you’ll need to review them on a case-by-case basis.
Redundant words repeat the meaning of other words in the sentence. If it is possible to say the same thing in fewer words, always do so.
- Absolutely + necessary or essential:
Example: Love was absolutely essential to her happiness.
Revision: Love was essential for her happiness.
Example: The virus will be entirely eliminated.
Revision: The virus will be eliminated.
Example: He was completely sure the girl would say “yes.”
Revision: He was sure the girl would say “yes.”
Example: He could possibly become the next president.
Revision: He could become the next president.
- Brief + moment:
Example: For a brief moment, he remained speechless.
Revision: For a moment, he remained speechless.
- Ask + the question:
Example: I asked her a question about our plans.
Revision: I asked her about our plans.
- Actual + facts:
Example: The policeman submitted the actual facts about the case.
Revision: The policeman submitted the facts about the case.
Example: Accordingly, ask before making changes next time.
Revision: Ask before making changes next time.
- ATM machine: (The abbreviation “ATM” stands for “automated teller machine.”)
Example: The ATM machine is around the corner.
Revision: The ATM is around the corner.
- Enter in:
Example: He entered in his childhood room.
Revision: He entered his childhood room.
- So or very:
Example: I was so glad to see him.
Revision: I was glad to see him.
- Still remains:
Example: The author still remains the most prominent figure of the 19th century.
Revision: The author remains the most prominent figure of the 19th century.
Nominalization is when you use a noun instead of a verb or adjective. This practice usually slows the reader down. Since action words – like verbs – are more dynamic, you should try to avoid unnecessary nominalizations. Here are some examples:
Example: Her definition of self-care was getting enough sleep and eating well.
Revision: She defined self-care as getting enough sleep and eating well.
Example: The accuracy of our study was insufficient.
Revision: Our study was inaccurate.
Example: Provide a description of the design you prefer.
Revision: Please describe the design you prefer.
- Had a discussion concerning:
Example: They had a discussion concerning the business perspectives.
Revision: They discussed the business perspectives.
- Had a conversation about:
Example: They had a conversation about their relationships.
Revision: They discussed their relationships.
- Have a need for:
Example: I have a need for a day off.
Revision: I need a day off.
- Increase in strength:
Example: Their love increased in strength.
Revision: Their love grew stronger.
- Is aware of:
Example: He was aware of her hatred.
Revision: He realized she hated him.
- Is in love with:
Example: They are in love with each other.
Revision: They love each other.
- Lack the ability to:
Example: I lack the ability to wake up early in the morning.
Revision: I cannot wake up early in the morning.
- Make a decision to:
Example: I couldn’t make a decision to end our communication.
Revision: I couldn’t decide to end our communication.
Example: His reaction offended me.
Revision: The way he reacted offended me.
Vague language is common in colloquial speech, but in writing, it looks unprofessional. Vague words lack solid definitions. Avoid the words below or replace them, following the instructions.
Example: About 100 visitors left reviews.
Revision: Approximately 100 visitors left reviews.
Example: It was almost time to leave.
Revision: They left a few minutes later.
Example: You need to get stronger.
Revision: You need to become stronger.
- Get out of:
Example: The building is on fire; get out of it.
Revision: You need to exit the building because it’s on fire.
Example: Any individual shall have a place of residence.
Revision: Any person shall have a place of residence.
Example: My initial thought was to leave.
Revision: At first, I thought to leave.
- You’re going to have to:
Example: You’re going to have to finish this at home.
Revision: You must finish this at home.
- Make available:
Example: Our service makes available multiple useful features.
Revision: Our service presents multiple useful features.
Example: We left the area.
Revision: We left the country.
Example: Planning is my least favorite aspect of traveling.
Revision: I like to travel, but I do not like to plan.
Example: The situation grew dangerous.
Revision: The uprising grew dangerous.
- Small, big, good, or bad:
Example: He was a good person.
Revision: He was a kind and caring person.
Empty phrases mean nothing in the literal sense. By the way, “in the literal sense” is also a meaningless phrase. These words distract the reader from your message and can sound colloquial. In many cases, you can do without them or replace them with a more meaningful construction.
- All things being equal:
Example: All things being equal, we will earn twice as much next year.
Revision: If all goes well, we will earn twice as much next year.
- Due to the fact that:
Example: Due to the fact that he is a doctor, he minds his health.
Revision: Since he is a doctor, he minds his health.
- For all intents and purposes:
Example: For all intents and purposes, the protagonist will die in the end.
Revision: In the end, the protagonist will die.
- For the most part:
Example: For the most part, I like Chinese food.
Revision: I like Chinese food.
- For the purpose of:
Example: I go in for sport for the purpose of keeping in shape.
Revision: I go in for sport to keep in shape.
- Go ahead:
Example: Go ahead and kill that bug.
Revision: Kill that bug.
- Harder than it has to be:
Example: The woman made their relationship harder than it had to be.
Revision: The woman made their relationship harder than necessary.
- Here’s the thing:
Example: I’ll tell you the story. Here’s the thing.
Revision: I’ll tell you the story. Once upon a time…
- I feel/believe that:
Example: I believe that I am capable of doing it.
Revision: I am capable of doing it.
- I might add:
Example: He is handsome, I might add.
Revision: He is handsome.
- Integrate with each other:
Example: The devices must integrate with each other to function correctly.
Revision: The devices must integrate to function correctly.
- In terms of:
Example: His new position was perfect in terms of salary.
Revision: The salary was perfect in his new position.
Thanks for James Corgin for this article that originated at https://ivypanda.com/blog/filler-words/
Make Your Writing Stronger – 14 Tips
Are You Giving Praise or Gratitude? How This Makes Everyone Better Versions of Themselves
By Lynne Franklin (reprinted with permission)
Kathy was my first assistant when I was working at a public relations agency in my twenties. I made a point of writing thank-you notes to her when she finished something for me.
Walking through the office one day, I heard Kathy talking to another assistant. She said, “Lynne writes me thank-you notes for everything. That makes them all kind of meaningless.”
I was shocked! I thought I was being a good supervisor … Not knowing what to do, I never discussed this with Kathy and just wrote fewer of them.
What’s the Difference?
Praise is defined as “the expression of warm approval or admiration.” It comes from the Latin pretium, meaning “reward, prize, value, worth.”
Gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Its root is the Latin gratus, for “pleasing, agreeable, thankful, grace.”
If this seems like so much hair splitting, here’s the sense I make of it. Praise recognizes something a person has done. Gratitude is about the meaning of what they do and who they are to you.
With that in mind, I can see how my notes fell short for Kathy. They didn’t show approval or admiration of her work. Nor did they show appreciation or a wish to be kind back. She was right: my scribbles were a meaningless pleasantry that made me feel good.
Our Brains on Gratitude
Here’s the great thing. Gratitude is a gift to the giver and receiver.
It stimulates both brains to produce the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which make us feel good and boosts our moods. It also reduces fear and anxiety by lowering the amount of stress hormones in our systems.
When we practice gratitude every day, this rewires our brains. We strengthen these neural pathways, making us more grateful and positive by default. (This affects the people around us, because moods are contagious.)
Then we all get the documented benefits of gratitude:
- Being happier—having more positive emotions and thoughts, becoming more aware and awake, feeling greater satisfaction with ourselves, enhancing our mood
- Being healthier—building a stronger immune system, having fewer aches and pains, having optimum blood pressure and heart function, experiencing better sleeping and waking cycles
- Being better versions of ourselves—improving our communication with others, having more empathy, having stronger relationships, being more likeable, being a more involved team member
Don’t make my mistake of sending thoughtless thank yous. Whether giving praise or gratitude, be specific:
- Praise—“You did a great job of leading that meeting, Kathy. You kept things moving. We got a lot done—on time! And now everyone knows what to do next.”
- Gratitude—”You’re an inspiring leader, Kathy. This meeting is a great example. Not only did you get everything covered in an hour, but you made sure we all felt involved in the solution and know what to do next. I’m so happy to be part of your team because we’re making a difference!”
Look for opportunities to express gratitude. It could be a comment—face-to-face or phone/Zoom/Skype. It could be a note—which has even more impact when you deliver it in person, or even read it out loud to the recipient first. It could even be thinking about someone and thanking that person in your head. And don’t forget to regularly send yourself a note or thought of gratitude.
Make gratitude a practice. Some people keep gratitude journals, where they write what happened this day or week that they’re grateful for. Or they have a “gratitude partner” whom they regularly discuss this. Whatever path you choose, focus on how these instances made you feel.
In the middle of your over-busy day, take time to notice and express appreciation. Consider it the emotional equivalent of the boost you get from coffee or chocolate—without the calories!
Lynne Franklin is a communications expert who can increase your persuasiveness in three ways:
- Speeches, workshops and coaching that give you tools you can use right away
- Strategies that help you turn difficult business communications into opportunities to succeed
- Written and spoken communications created to reach your corporate and marketing communication goals
Get more people to do what you want. Let Lynne show you how. Call 847-729-5716
Does Word Order Matter? Think “Short to Long”
by Barbara McNichol
When polishing your sentences, pay attention to the nuances of word order. Yes, it matters!
As someone who has edited more than 350 nonfiction books, to my eye (and ear), placing “short” before “long” works best. This applies to both sentences and lists.
Here’s a simple example from a recent book I edited:
“He was well respected and loved in the academic community.”
I changed it to:
“He was loved and well respected in the academic community.”
Because “loved” is 5 letters and “well respected” is 13, it makes for a smoother read if the longer phrase follows the shorter word. See if you agree.
“Good leaders don’t waste time, effort, financial resources, or opportunities.”
“Good leaders don’t waste time, effort, opportunities, or financial resources.” This shift creates a tidy parade of words from short to long.
Word Order in Lists
In addition, a list is visually easier to follow when the line length goes from short to long. This example is from a leadership newsletter:
It would be counterproductive if you:
- Take the time to plan your day, but you don’t follow the plan.
- Hire people to do a job but don’t take time training them to do that job.
- Have slow-moving products in your inventory that generate low margins.
- Conduct an employee engagement survey and do nothing with the results.
- Attend a trade show to network with customers but spend your time on the phone.
To get a feel for how adjectives line up best in a sentence, this blog post summarizes it beautifully: http://barbaramcnichol.com/2017/11/02/order-place-adjectives-sentence-explained/
For even more tips, go to http://barbaramcnichol.com/2016/03/06/5-writing-tips-to-improve-your-readability/
Key message: Better writing means paying attention to the best use of word order!
Pros and Cons of Using the Oxford Comma
Take 18 Days to Become a Better Writer
by Barbara McNichol
Incremental learning makes a difference when you set any goal for yourself, including becoming a better writer.
Why would you desire to have better writing? To get hired or promoted, to attract more clients, to build your reputation and boost your book sales–to name only a few benefits.
Your action item: To reap these benefits, set aside time for 18 days to improve your writing, whether it’s for book chapters, reports, or sensitive emails.
In each of those days, you would study one of these easy, effective tips to hone your writing craft. Using them habitually, you’ll find you get better results and your confidence will grow. Any time you might spend in a writing WordShop (including those I offer) is reinforced by the ideas in this e-guide.
Your assurance: These practical, immediately usable tips have been compiled over years of editing nonfiction books and conducting business writing classes. You can feel assured writers have tested them thoroughly!
Your goal: Make a point of integrating a fresh tip into your writing every day. You’ll see how perfecting the communication loop through improved writing benefits your readers, your coworkers, you clients, and ultimately your career.
Your Key to Better Writing
This e-guide can be purchased for only $14.95. Click here to order. Use code 18DAYS to receive a $4.95 discount! Any questions? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you already worked with this e-guide? If so, please leave your comments here. How did it help you? Inquiring minds want to know!
Do You Have Reading Envy?
By Abby Marks Beale
Don’t you just envy people who always keep up with their reading? You may be surprised to know that a quick reading speed is not the only way to get caught up. It’s those who devote an adequate amount of TIME to it are also the ones who are not haunted by their “to-read stack.”
Being Intentional with Your Reading
That makes sense, you say, BUT you’re feeling time-starved? It’s really as simple as being intentional about wanting to make more time to read.
Review these common-sense suggestions. Which ones do you already do? Which ones you can start doing to relieve your reading guilt and get more reading done?
Capitalize on free moments by always having something with you from your reading pile – be it digital or on paper – and kept in your car, in your purse or briefcase, etc. An unexpected delay in an appointment is now viewed as a gift of time.
Watch less (or no) TV! If you watch an hour or more of television a day, just think how much reading you could get done if you swapped some TV time with reading just a few days a week!
Only read things that are of value to you so you don’t waste your precious reading time on useless material.
Plan it! Make an appointment with yourself during work hours (this may mean moving to a conference room to get peace and quiet), on weekends (you can read while kids are watching cartoons) or during your commute (if you have one where you’re not driving!)
Try to read more at your peak time(s) of day – your most mentally awake and alert times. If you are a morning person, then make some time then. If you are a night owl, carve out time after dark.
Upgrade your reading skills so however much time you do spend, you get a lot more accomplished! You can take our interactive reading course online OR if you prefer to learn auditorily, you can start by listening to the 10 Days to Faster Reading audiobook available on Audible.com.
March is National Reading Month. Here’s to getting more time to read!
Abby Marks Beale makes a difference in the world through her speed reading programs, which I highly recommend. Details at https://revitupreading.com
How will you celebrate National Reading Month? Please comment here.
How to Talk About Your Book at Holiday Parties – and Get Invited Back
By Mary Walewski, guest blogger
It’s time for holiday parties—a season when you attend parties where you only know a few people. There you are, chatting away with total strangers when someone asks you what you do for a living.
“I write books. I just published my latest one,” you say.
“Wow, you wrote a book? What’s it about?”
Before you start on a blow-by-blow description of your subject or plot that leaves them looking around the room for somebody—anybody—to interrupt you, STOP.
You’ve just received an invitation to practice your Very Short Description of What Your Book Is About. Its purpose is to keep the conversation going. Most authors feel they need to relay a lot when they’re asked, “What’s your book about?” But that’s not what people really want. They want a one- or two-sentence answer to respond to and generate a conversation.
What is Your Very Short Description?
Before you go to your next party, practice a 10- to 20-second description that will encourage others to respond with questions, not leave them looking for an escape. It’s natural for you to want to tell them all about your book. But, please remember, this is a conversation, not a sales call.
What happens when you begin to describe everything in your book? You shut down the conversation and the other person becomes a hostage to your narrative. Instead, reply with something like, “It’s a mystery novel set in a hospital.” This is short and concise, while encouraging the other person to say something like, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to write a book. How did you get started?”
Then the conversation can continue to a natural conclusion—and that person isn’t suddenly seeing someone across the room to speak to.
Ideas for What to Say at Holiday Parties
Examples of your Very Short Description of What Your Book Is About:
- If it’s nonfiction, what problem does it solve? Who is it for?
- “It’s a self-help book for single fathers on how to start dating after divorce.”
- “It’s a diet book for people who don’t want to give up carbs.”
- If it’s fiction, state the genre (Is it mystery, detective, romance, etc.) and where it takes place.
- “It’s a historical novel set during the California Gold Rush.”
- Who’s your main character and what happens to him/her?
- “It’s set during the California Gold Rush. It’s about a sheriff who falls for the local madam in a mining camp.”
May all of your conversations at holiday parties end with “Where can I buy your book?”
Enjoy the season!
Mary Walewski is a book marketing consultant who works with indie authors and publishers. Request her online report The 5 Marketing Habits of Successful Authors at Buy The Book Marketing.com.
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