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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

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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.