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Write Concisely? Just Do It!

Before my business writing seminars, I often ask learners what they hope to gain from the workshop. Many of them make comments like these:

  • I would like to get my ideas across in a lot fewer words.
  • I want my message to be more concise, to communicate my meaning in as few words as possible.
  • I would like to communicate succinctly, without any extra words.
  • I want to be more concise and to the point, with less redundancy.
  • I would like to keep things concise and brief.
  • I want to write in a concise manner.
  • I want to have more concise communications and not include so much long-windedness.

In other words, many people want to:

  • Write concisely.

If you want to write concisely, my advice is to just do it. Use fewer words. Avoid repeating yourself. Feel confident that making your point in five words is legitimate. Ten words are not required or even desirable when five can do the job.

For writing discipline, I often do a word count of a document I just finished. (In Office 2003, click Tools, then Word Count; in Office 2007, the word count appears at the bottom of the screen.) Then I challenge myself to cut the number of words by at least 10 percent. For example, if the piece is 200 words, I try to cut at least 20 words.

I am continually amazed by how easy it is to use fewer words. Here’s an example from the list of wordy comments above:

  • I would like to get my ideas across in a lot fewer words.
  • I would like to get my ideas across in fewer words.
  • I would like to get my ideas across more concisely.
  • I would like to get my ideas across concisely.
  • I would like to communicate concisely.
  • I want to write concisely.
  • I want to be concise.

In the example above, 13 words were reduced to 5. Here’s another:

  • Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.
  • If you have any questions or concerns, please get in touch with me.
  • Please contact me with any questions or concerns.
  • Questions or concerns? Please contact me.

Along with conciseness, flow and tone are important. “If you have any questions or concerns, please get in touch with me” is more formal than “Questions or concerns? Please contact me.” In each message, it’s important to balance conciseness with the feeling you want to communicate.

But if you want to be concise, just do it. Finish a message; then cut it by 10 percent. When that is easy, go for 20 percent. If it makes you feel better, know that I will be doing it too.

Syntax Training


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

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