Want to Be Concise?

In all my writing classes, people tell me they want to be more concise. That’s a worthy goal, especially since our readers get slammed with so much they have to read on the job. If a message isn’t short, often they won’t read it.

I recommend Marcia Yudkin’s downloadable report “Shorter: Say It in Fewer Words.” The report offers 58 specific ideas for shortening your documents. Here are three items I took from Marcia’s list that were good reminders for me:

“Pare adverbs and adjectives: In most people’s writing, adverbs don’t add nuance and should be cut. ‘Literally’: out! ‘Actually’: gone! When the adverb does add significance, try to replace the adverb and verb combination with a more specific word, like changing . . . ‘cut carefully’ to ‘sliced’ or ‘divided.’

“Make verbs active and vivid. Question every instance of ‘is,’ ‘are,’ ‘was,’ or ‘were’ and try to reword your sentence without the weak pseudo-verb ‘to be.’ To do this, you’ll tighten wordy constructions and change passive verbs to active verbs. Thus . . . ‘The program was started in 1988 and was run without investors until 1997’ becomes ‘The program launched in 1988 and gained investors in 1997.’

Excise intensifiers. Paradoxically, words like ‘very,’ ‘absolutely,’ ‘really,’ ‘certainly,’ or ‘undoubtedly’ weaken your message. Strengthen your point by getting rid of them.”

Marcia provides 10 ways to identify content to cut, 10 formatting changes that slim down documents, and 38 editing suggestions. When you are finished digesting those, you will be ready for the three realistic practices she includes–not editing exercises, but actual pieces to shorten.

Want to say it in fewer words? (I just used Marcia’s tip “Change statements to questions.”) Then get “Shorter: Say It in Fewer Words,” by Marcia Yudkin.

Syntax Training