Brevity: Top 3 Ways to be Succinct

Posted in: Better Writing, Editor

blue pencilWordiness obfuscates concepts. Simple sentences in plain language engage readers in the content rather than exercise their brains attempting to parse the language.

Three very simple techniques are quick ways to trim words without trimming meaning.

1. That

One of the most overused words in the English language is often superfluous. Search your document for the word “that”.

Where you find an instance of that, read the sentence aloud substituting “the one over there” for that.

While there are some genuine uses for that which are not the strictest definition of the word, many times it can be eliminated. For example:

I never knew that she was your sister.

Here, that is unnecessary.

I never knew she was your sister.

Some phrases incorporate that.

He was aware of the fact that her payment was overdue.

Avoid using such phrases wherever possible.

He was aware her payment was overdue.

2. No Passive Voice

The passive voice is deception. It is using an unnamed subject to act. The sentence subject does not perform the verb action; instead, it is the object of the action.

The ball was hit with enough force to carry it over the fence.

Who hit the ball? Shorter is better here because it is more descriptive.

Josh hit the ball over the fence.

Passive voice uses a form of to be with the past participle of the verb, in this example to hit. Most examples of the passive voice require an additional phrase or dependent clause to describe the subject committing the action.

The rabbit is hunted by the dog.

By the dog is the phrase lengthening this sentence.

The dog hunted the rabbit.

Action engages the reader. Active voice emphasizes the doer and the action. Passive voice emphasizes the receiver of the action and creates wordier sentences.

Along with passive voice comes unemphatic verbs: to have and to be. Using action verbs creates forceful, more succinct sentences.

The milk has a sour smell to it.

There is no action in possessing (having) a sour smell.

The milk smells sour.

Actions verbs remove extra phrases.

3. Compound Predicates

Combining two or more actions by one subject cuts wordiness.

Nicole went outside, and she started to cut the grass.

Nicole did both actions. The reader knows Nicole is acting until the period.

Nicole went outside and started cutting grass.

Compound predicates cure run-on sentences.

She went to the blackboard and then she erased the incorrect answers and she wrote the correct ones on the blackboard.

She does all of this. The reader can assume all of the actions occur at/on the blackboard.

She went to the blackboard, erased the incorrect answers and wrote the correct ones.

Combine a series of staccato or simple sentences into a more complex sentence to be more succinct.

Margo put the water on to boil. Then, she set out the cutting board. She chopped the vegetables for the soup. She slid them off the cutting board into the water.

The repetition of cutting board is unnecessary.

Margo put the water on to boil and set out the cutting board. She chopped the vegetables for the soup and slid them into the pot.

 Cutting one word per sentence can make a tremendous difference in your manuscript’s length and readability.

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1 Comment

  1. Clearly | The M3 Blog - [...] Being succinct leaves less room for interpretive error. Succinctness makes us more specific. Specificity is the rule. [...]
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