May 26, 2013

Quick Concision Tips for Serious Writers

Concision in your writing means you are using precise language and tight phrasing that is clear and crisp. Here are just a few ways to obtain that kind of copy.

1. Avoid relative clauses (who, that, which, wherever, whenever). 
Relative clauses simply encourage longer compound sentences. Break those sentences up. Strive for simplicity with short sentences.


2. Strive to eliminate words that take up space without saying much.
Copywriters call those wordy phrases "fluff." Instead, make better use of your words by being specific and using strong sensory imagery.

For instance:

“During this moment of time, the birds' beaks turned black in color and shiny in appearance.”

First of all, we know a moment is an element of time, you don't need to tell us the obvious. We also know black is a color, and we know shiny refers to appearance.

So much better to write:
“Just then, the birds' beaks turned a shiny black.”


3. Find single words to replace phrases wherever possible and appropriate.

Here's some simpler and more concise ways to say things we often take too many words to say in writing when we are trying to sound erudite (and instead, come across as kinda stuffy and boring):

  • the reason for, due to the fact that, on account of = because
  • regardless of the fact that, despite the fact that = although
  • on the occasion of, in a situation in which, under circumstances where = when
  • in reference to, with regard to, concerning the matter of = about
  • is able to, has an opportunity to, is in a position to = can
  • prior to, in anticipation of, subsequent to, simultaneously with = before, after, as
  • not many = few
  • not the same = different
  • not different = alike, similar to
  • did not = failed to
  • does not have = lacks
  • did not stay = left
  • not old enough = too young
 You can also clear away the negatives:
  • not many = few
  • not the same = different
  • not different = alike, similar to
  • did not = failed to
  • does not have = lacks
  • did not stay = left
  • not old enough = too young
4. Finally, active voice not only gives your copy more energy but also tends to make sentences shorter.

Starting sentences with the direct object and using the passive voice simply takes more words--prepositions and articles and explanation included.

"The ball was thrown by John": 6 words. 
"John threw the ball": 4 words.
It's not rocket science.

For more advice on better copywriting I highly recommend the book THE ART OF COPYWRITING by Herschell Gordon Lewis.