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Adding Muscle to Your Messages

If you want to build “muscular,” concise messages, apply these three tips, which I excerpted from the newsletter:

1. Reduce the use of sentence openers such as “There is” and “These are.” Compare these sentence pairs:

  • There is something you need to consider.
  • Consider this:
  • There are people listed on the roster who did not attend.
  • Not everyone on the roster attended.

It’s your turn. Edit this excerpt:

  • These are just a few examples. There are many more.

2. Cut sentence flab. When you finish writing a piece, cut the word count by at least 10 percent. It is easier than you may think. Compare these sentences:

  • As of this date, the final rule has not been published.
  • The final rule has not yet been published.
  • Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions and concerns.
  • Please contact me with questions and concerns.

It’s your turn. Edit this sentence:

  • We have to bring all of our collective energy and experience to bear in this situation.

3. Condense prepositional phrases into one word. Prepositional phrases can lead to flabby sentences. When possible, create sleek, concise sentences using single words rather than phrases. Compare these items, with prepositions underlined:

  • She is of service to her community.
  • She serves her community.
  • We will end the presentation with comments from Dr. Davies.
  • Dr. Davies’ comments will end the presentation.

It’s your turn. Edit this sentence:

  • She has had a career in banking for 20 years.

I recommend Marcia Yudkin’s downloadable report “Shorter: Say It in Fewer Words.” The report offers 58 specific ideas for shortening your documents, along with practice. (Disclosure: If you purchase the report, I get a small commission, but don’t let that stop you! The report is terrific.)

I welcome your tips for writing concisely.


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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.