3 tips for writing succinctly

It all comes back to the cardinal rule of omitting unnecessary words.


Here’s what William Strunk Jr. said about concise writing in “The Elements of Style”:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Whether you’re shooting an email to your boss or drafting a campaign speech, succinct writing is essential. The goal of writing concisely is to communicate your message as efficiently as possible—a difficult feat even for experienced writers.

Trim your writing with these tips:

1. Use powerful, specific words.

Writers often use weak, vague words. Replace ambiguous language with powerful, specific words.

Wordy: The president discussed many of the benefits of integrating social media into the public relations strategy in his quarterly report.

Succinct: The president lauded the PR team’s social media efforts in his quarterly report.

By replacing vague words with stronger language, the new sentence expresses the same idea in fewer words.

2. Avoid jargon.

If the bulk of your audience is unfamiliar with industry terminology, avoid it in your writing. Industry jargon is often wordy and difficult to understand.

Jargon-filled: The computer software program, which is the result of seven grueling years of study involving a highly advanced team of twenty researchers and nearly $6 million worth of Argon Software’s assets, combines all auxiliary and subsidiary data into a single, easy-to-use social media management interface.

Succinct: The result of a seven-year, $6 million investment involving a 20-person team, the software displays all the data on one user-friendly social-media-management screen.

The new sentence cuts out unnecessary jargon, making it easier to understand.

3. Don’t be redundant.

To tighten your writing, get rid of redundant phrases.

Redundant: Many public relations professionals in the PR industry are excellent speakers.

Succinct: Many public relations professionals are excellent speakers.

It’s obvious which industry public relations professionals are in; the new sentence removes “in the PR industry.” Inspect your writing to remove easily overlooked redundancies.

Writing concisely is tough, but editing and looking for these common errors strengthens your writing and clarifies your messages. By refining your word choice and sentence structure, you will make your writing as succinct as possible.

A version of this story originally appeared on the Walker Sands blog, Footprints.

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