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.
One contributing factor to wordy writing is the addition of unnecessary words, phrases, and ideas. Here are some things to avoid:
Cut meaningless words and phrases
Avoid clichés, idioms, and colloquial (overly conversational) expressions. Take a look at these wordy sentences and their concise revisions.
|Rather than taking the bull by the horns, she was quiet as a church mouse.
|She avoided confrontation by remaining silent.
|The bridge is unstable due to the fact that it was constructed with inferior material.
|The bridge is unstable because it was constructed with inferior material.
Filler words, all-purpose words, and unnecessary qualifiers
|All things considered, climate change should be given more attention, in my opinion.
|Climate change should be given more attention.
|Last but not least, researchers found several connections between the subjects.
|Lastly, researchers found several connections between the subjects.
Use specific wording whenever possible.
|Engineering is comprised of many aspects.
|Engineering can be subdivided into many disciplines.
|Historical context is an important factor to consider while writing literature reviews.
|Historical context must be considered 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
|He received a wound from the clock while he wound it.
|The clock injured him while he wound it.
|He was right to assume his subjects are right-handed.
|He correctly assumed his subjects are right-handed.
Redundancy of ideas
|Subjects with little technical training tend to perform poorly due to their lack of technical experience.
|Some subjects’ lack of technical experience resulted in poor performance.
|The reason she moved is because she was offered a better position.
|She moved because she was offered a better position.
Words and phrases that express an idea that another word implies
|As already stated above, beluga whales use sounds and echolocation to hunt in dark or turbid waters.
|As stated above, 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)
|It is challenging to read Shakespeare.
|Reading Shakespeare is challenging.
|It is significant that a study of ethics complaints against social workers found that half of these involved violation of professional boundaries.
|Significantly, a study of ethics complaints against social workers found that half of these involved violations of professional boundaries.
Verb and noun clusters
Replace verb + noun clusters with a single verb.
|The researchers conducted an investigation of the effects of caffeine on students writing timed examinations.
|The researchers investigated the effects of caffeine on students writing timed examinations.
Unnecessary helping verbs
Eliminate unnecessary helping verbs.
|The teacher could understand why her students failed the test.
|The teacher understood why her students failed the test.
Short but related sentences
Join short, related sentences with appropriate punctuation, such as a comma (or several commas).
|Many of his fabrications lay in plain sight for years. One of them was published in the respectable journal Science.
|Many of his fabrications, one of them published in the respected journal Science, lay in plain sight for years.
Where possible and appropriate, use active voice in writing. However, there are some kinds of writing where passive voice may be appropriate. See our resource on active and passive voice for more information.
|The reaction was catalyzed by the introduction of light.
|The introduction of light catalyzed the reaction.
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:
Use plain language wherever possible.
|The author’s expostulation impugns litterateurs of yore.
|The author’s argument disproves earlier scholars.
Technical terminology without definition or explanation
When introducing technical terminology, it is generally appropriate to explain it the first time it is mentioned.
|The photographer fixed the negative.
|The photographer removed unexposed silver from the negative in a solution of chemicals, thereby “fixing” the image.
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.