300 Days of Better Writing

August 19, 2011

4 Strategies for Concise Professional Writing

What is Concise Professional Writing?

Concise professional writing uses as few words as necessary to 1) communicate an idea, 2) engage the reader, and 3) maintain an appropriate tone. It is economical. Professional writing demonstrates respect for the readers, their needs and interests, and their time. 

300 Days of Better Writing has much to say on this topic, but to get you started, here are four “days” of strategies for concise professional writing. 

4 Strategies for Concise Professional Writing


1) Day 3: Be concise.

Good things, when short, are twice as good. (Baltasar Gracian)

Although this quote could be applied to many things, Gracian refers specifically to writing. His point, and it’s a good one, is that texts written simply and briefly are superior to texts written in a lengthy and grandiose style. Longer does not mean better. In fact, the opposite is generally true.

A writer who intentionally lengthens his or her documents will not produce good writing, and the reader will most likely be turned off. However, this does not mean that short is better, either. The point is for everything you write to add value to the reader.

When we talk about economical writing, we echo Gracian. Say what you have to say, but say it simply, clearly, and briefly. Then stop. 

[Think about how effective leaders communicate. They state their ideas succinctly. Professional writing does the same, and for the same reason—to get the desired response from the readers. In this way, professional writing and effective leadership are the same.]


2) Day 143: If it “goes without saying,” don’t say it.

Writers insult their readers when they tell their reader that some idea is obvious. It might not be obvious to the reader. You have just told the reader that everyone ELSE knows the idea, so if you don’t know it, you’re stupid. Also, if the idea is obvious, then the reader will be insulted that you want him to waste time reading something he already knows. In either case, you create a confrontational situation.

And if something is obvious, why write it at all? Sample phrases stating that some idea is obvious:

“It goes without saying that . . . .”
“It is obvious that . . . .”
“Clearly . . . .”
“As everyone knows . . . .”
“It is common knowledge that . . . .”

Our advice: First decide whether you need to write the idea. If the answer is “Yes,” then the second advice is to remove the insulting phrase. For example, instead of writing,

“As everyone knows, you can reduce disease risk by washing your hands,”

you can write,

“Hand washing reduces the risk of disease.”

[Professional writing, by definition, demonstrates professionalism. One key aspect of professionalism is respect for others, particularly if you wish to engage them in communication.] 


3) Day 219: Remove superfluous quantifiers.

Writing style and writing quality are difficult to balance effectively. Writing style is the habitual use of particular expressions, word choices, and sentence and paragraph structures. As an editor, I believe that style has lower importance than audience appropriateness, clarity, and concision.

One characteristic of style that can be revised is the use of superfluous quantifiers, i.e., unnecessary words that refer to a quantity. Consider these two sentences.

“She made a presentation to the entire board of directors.”
“I will inform all of the stakeholders.”

The superfluous quantifiers are “entire” and “all of,” respectively. For example, “the board of directors” implies all the members of the board, or the entire board. The sentence meanings don’t change when these words are removed, giving us these concise sentences.

“She made a presentation to the board of directors.”
“I will inform the stakeholders.”

“Yes,” you might be asking, “but what if the writer doesn’t mean the entire board or all the stakeholders?” The writer will need to explain:

“She made a presentation to the board members who attended the meeting.”
“I will inform the appropriate stakeholders.”

[Think about how children and adults communicate differently. Children are prone to exaggeration and inflated descriptions, often characterized by superfluous quantifiers. Professional writing is more akin to the way adults speak. Adults generally let the content impress or excite the recipient, not the descriptive words. Professional writing, therefore, focuses on the ideas.] 


4) Day 223: Remove throw-away reality words.

Concise writing is vigorous and economical. It keeps the reader focused on the topic, and it promotes agreement and action by your reader. On the other hand, writers produce lifeless, uninspiring writing when they use more words than necessary or provide redundant information.

This strategy requires removing throw-away reality words. These are words that say something is true. Consider these examples.

“The plan was, in reality, acceptable to the team.”
The throw-away words are “in reality.” If the plan is acceptable, then it is acceptable in reality, as opposed to in fantasy.

“The president was truly amazed by the public protest.”
The throw-away word is “truly.” If the president was amazed, then he was truly amazed. However, if the word “truly” is being used to show an extreme level of amazement, then use a better word than “amazed,” such as “dumbfounded.”

“The client was, in fact, less than satisfied.”
The throw-away words are “in fact.”

“For sure, the cakes were delivered on time.”
The throw-away words are “for sure.”

“This is pretty rare.”
The throw-away word is “pretty.”

Here are a few more throw-away reality words (depending on how they are used):

in truth

You might use these words for emphasis when countering contradictory information, so consider their use carefully. In most cases, you can simply throw them away. 

Final thought about professional writing

Professional writing, finally, is based on a clear understanding of the message you want to communicate. Determine what you want to say, and then remove anything that doesn’t contribute to the message.

A clear understanding of the message leads to economical, professional writing.

These are the the strategies for days 3, 143, 219, and 223 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats.

For a sample of 300 Days of Better Writing and other books by Precise Edit, download the free ebook.

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