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Concise writing uses the fewest words necessary to accurately convey an idea and should be the goal of every university-level writer. Writing concisely is challenging because it requires significant attention to detail regarding word choice, sentence structure, and organization. When achieved, concision increases a text's overall clarity and persuasiveness. This handout outlines a number of strategies you can use to achieve concision in your writing.
Helpful tip: Early in the writing process, many writers need to focus more on getting their ideas down. You do not need to be overly concerned with reducing wordiness while drafting, but you should pay careful attention to the concision of your work while revising and proofreading.
Cut meaningless words and phrases
One contributing factor to wordy writing is the addition of unnecessary words, phrases, and ideas. Here are some things to avoid:
- Meaningless words and phrases
Avoid cliches, idioms, and colloquial (overly conversational) expressions.
Wordy: Rather than , she was .
Concise: She avoided by remaining .
Wordy: The bridge is unstable it was constructed with inferior material.
Concise: The bridge is unstable it was constructed with inferior material.
- Filler words, all-purpose words, and unnecessary qualifiers
Wordy: , climate change should be given more attention, .
Concise: Climate change should be given more attention.
Wordy: , researchers found several connections between the subjects.
Concise: , researchers found several connections between the subjects.
- Vague words
Use specific wording whenever possible.
Wordy: Engineering is comprised of many .
Concise: Engineering can be .
Wordy: Historical context is an to consider while writing literature reviews.
Concise: Historical context while writing literature reviews.
Cut unnecessary repetition
You should avoid repetition in your writing because it disrupts the flow of your paper and can bore your reader. Here are some things to avoid:
- Repetition of the same word within a sentence when used in two different ways
Wordy: He received a from the clock while he it.
Concise: The clock him while he it.
Wordy: He was to assume his subjects are -handed.
Concise: He assumed his subjects are -handed.
- Redundancy of ideas
Wordy: Subjects with tend to perform poorly due to their .
Concise: Some subjects' resulted in poor performance.
Wordy: she moved is she was offered a better position.
Concise: She moved she was offered a better position.
- Words and phrases that express an idea that another word implies
Wordy: , beluga whales use sounds and echolocation to hunt in dark or turbid waters.
Concise: , beluga whales use sounds and echolocation to hunt in dark or turbid waters.
Where possible, you should ensure that your sentences are as clear and direct as possible. If you can eliminate words or phrases in your writing without disrupting or diluting meaning, you should consider doing so. Here are some things to avoid:
- Expletive constructions (it is / there is / there are)
Wordy: challenging to read Shakespeare.
Concise: Reading Shakespeare is challenging.
Wordy: significant that a study of ethics complaints against social workers found that half of these involved violation of professional boundaries.
Concise: , a study of ethics complaints against social workers found that half of these involved violations of professional boundaries.
- Verb and noun clusters
Replace verb and noun clusters with a single verb.
Wordy: The researchers of the effects of caffeine on students writing timed examinations.
Concise: The researchers the effects of caffeine on students writing timed examinations.
- Unnecessary helping verbs
Wordy: The teacher why her students failed the test.
Concise: The teacher why her students failed the test.
- Short but related sentences
Join short, related sentences with appropriate punctuation, such as a comma (or several commas).
Wordy: Many of his fabrications lay in plain sight for years. One of them was published in the respectable journal Science.
Concise: Many of his fabrications, one of them published in the respected journal Science, lay in plain sight for years.
- Passive voice
Where possible and appropriate, use active voice in writing.
Wordy: The reaction the introduction of light.
Concise: The introduction of light the reaction.
Helpful tip: There are some kinds of writing where passive voice may be appropriate. See our handout on passive and active voice for more information.
Jargon is field- or discipline-specific language that your reader may not understand. In deciding whether or not to keep specific terminology, consider your audience and their level of knowledge about your topic. Here are some things to avoid:
- Convoluted / complex language
Use plain language whenever possible.
Wordy: The author's .
Concise: The author's .
- Technical terminology without definition or explanation
When introducing technical terminology, it is generally appropriate to explain it the first time it is mentioned.
Wordy: The photographer .
Concise: The photographer , thereby "fixing" the image.
Helpful tip: Although the previous example's wordy version is shorter than the concise one, concision is as much about clarity as it is about length. Make sure that you are meeting your reader's needs in both content and structure.
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