One of my favorite quotes is: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” This quote, attributed alternatively to Mark Twain, Blaise Pascal or even Samuel Johnson, attests to the difficulty of writing concisely. But doing so is important and a skill that most writers develop over time. Here are a few tips to speed your mastery.
Use vivid words, primarily nouns and verbs. Limit adjectives and adverbs, which tend to lead to wordiness. Save supersizing for fast foods; think short and direct! Watch out especially for very. She was livid is stronger than She was very mad. This is my final draft is more direct than This is my very final draft.
Use the active voice; it’s almost always more direct than the passive. Passive sentences tend to dance around your point: This blog was written for you. Instead, reveal who did what: I wrote this blog for you. The words is, are, was, were, be, am, been, being and by as well as words ending in –ment or –tion frequently — but not always— signal passive constructions: Attention should be paid to redundant phrasing. Instead write: Pay attention to redundant phrasing or Avoid redundancy. You can set Microsoft Word’s grammar-checking function to find passive sentences and then reword the sentences yourself. Just go to Options/Proofing/Settings/Style and click on the Passive sentences box on a PC, or Preferences/Spelling and Grammar/Grammar/Settings and click on thePassive sentences box on a Mac.
Eliminate unnecessary thats: She said that she never wanted to see him again. He thinks that there’s no better calling than being a writer.
Use only one or two words for overused longer phrases: like instead of along the lines of, always instead of at all times, now or presently instead of at the present time, by instead of by means of, even though instead of despite the fact that, if instead of in the event that, soon instead of in the near future and so on.
Writing to a tight word count is great practice. Draft a segment, do a word count and then challenge yourself to reduce the count by twenty percent. You’d be surprised how much you can cut and still get your point across. Happy writing!
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