7 Tips for Writing Clearly and Concisely
__If you make a concerted effort, you can absolutely refine your writing skills so that you don’t tire out your reader and so your most important points are articulated with crystal clear precision. Here are seven writing tips to point you in the direction of concision and clarity.
- Embrace brevity. Extra words, long words, unnecessary phrases, and contrived chapters may boost word count, but they won’t improve your writing. A writer is more effective when they make their point efficiently without resorting to unnecessary words, redundant words, and redundant phrases. Aim to communicate your point with the fewest words possible, and if your prose feels to spartan, you can always beef it up later.
- Use words you fully understand. First-time writers sometimes rely too heavily on a thesaurus, using it to find big words that may sound sophisticated but that may not be precise synonyms for the simple words they’re replacing. Smart readers will spot these false synonyms. A single word can upend an entire sentence if used incorrectly. So while there’s nothing wrong with using advanced vocabulary, always prioritize clarity and precision.
- Use technical terms sparingly. Know your audience. If you’re writing for a trade journal or sending business letters (such as cover letters for a job), it may be appropriate to use technical jargon from certain industries. But if you’re writing for a general audience, be prudent about using technical terms. Too many of them—particularly too many unexplained terms—will negatively impact the readability of your work and cause audiences to lose interest. Take note of what the most successful writers do. New York Times bestselling authors like Stephen King and Dan Brown aren’t forcing their readers to wade through a river of jargon to get to the plot. They tell stories in language that feels comfortable to most readers, and their readers show them loyalty in return.
- Write in the active voice. In a sentence written in the active voice, the subject performs an action. “He caught the ball” is active. “The ball was caught by him” conveys the same information using passive voice, and it’s a less appealing sentence construction. Sometimes you need to write a passive sentence to accurately describe a situation, but generally, the active voice is more direct. Choose active verbs when given the chance.
- Use qualifiers and intensifiers judiciously. A qualifier is a word or phrase that limits the reach of a statement. For instance, you could call a person the “best athlete in the world” or you could call them the “best American athlete in the world.” This sort of precision can be a hallmark of good writing, but the overuse of qualifiers can weigh down sentences with prepositions and weak language. Intensifiers can produce strong statements (such as the word “extremely” in the phrase “the weather was extremely unpleasant”), but a gratuitous intensifier can leave you with a long sentence that is needlessly wordy. If your first draft is heavy on qualifiers and intensifiers, be ready for a revision process that starts with weeding out needless prepositional phrases and extraneous words.
- Vary sentence length. Short sentences and long sentences both have a lot to recommend them. The key is to provide your reader with variety. If your first sentence is a compound sentence with multiple clauses, make your second sentence short and simple. Amateur writers tend to fear shorter sentences, erroneously believing they’re inherently less sophisticated. To compensate for this, they end up producing one wordy sentence after another, replete with vague words. Yet many great writers, from Ernest Hemingway to Judy Blume, made their name on short sentences.
- Watch out for nominalizations. Nominalizations are multi-word phrases that would be better replaced with a single word. Instead of using a phrase like “gave an assessment of,” just write the single word “assessed.” That way you instantly give your reader the right word without forcing them to read extraneous phrases.__
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