The Art of Writing for Brevity

by Ella · 4 comments

We are all guilty of it. Getting too wordy when writing.

Example: The amount of total sales increased in the field of technology due to the utilization of blah blah blah…

I see it all the time on marketing materials, magazines, catalogs and websites. I’ve spent the past few years in real estate marketing. Many times I have had to sum up a 100+ unit, 10-story historical, live/work, luxury development with a million wonderful amenities and fantastic design into a postcard, including square footage, price points and photos. Not to mention a clean and easy to read layout. So, it was obviously important to write concisely to communicate my message. And it is not as easy as it looks.

The Importance of Brevity

The purpose of writing is to communicate a particular message. It is harder to be brief with this message than it is to write a lengthy piece. This is because we want to communicate all of our ideas into one spot. The point of brevity is not to say less, but to communicate a message more concisely. By deleting needless words or sentences and editing, this is possible.

Important questions to ask yourself are Can it be better? Can it make more sense? What details could I leave out? Can I restructure my sentences?

Trim the Fat

How do you turn all of the information you have gathered into a concise, focused piece? The tighter the message, the easier readers get roped in. So it is important to make every word tell part of the story. I took a class on writing for brevity through a few years back and picked up a few pointers that have helped write more concisely. Here are a few things I learned and use in my writing today:

Eliminate words

Superfluous nouns, verbs, articles, prepositions- that obscure meaning rather than clarify it. The Elements of Style, a classic reference book for clear and concise writing, says that “the fact that,” “who is” and “which was” are the most commonly used needless words. Here are a few more examples:

“the field of technology” and ”the technology industry” BECOME “technology”

“the amount of total sales increased” BECOMES “sales increased”

“the number of” CUT

“have a tendency to” BECOMES “tend to”

“are going to” BECOMES “will”

“some of the people” BECOMES “some people”

“I am writing in regards to” BECOMES “I’m writing about”

Choose your words carefully

Choose concrete, precise, everyday terms to those less specific and familiar is a way to do this. Here are some examples:

“organization” BECOMES “group”

“utilize” or “utilization” BECOMES “use”

“morbidity” or “mortality” BECOMES “illness” or “death”

“interface with each other” BECOMES “collaborate”

Use active voice

This helps to make every word tell, verses a passive voice, which is more verbose and less dynamic.

“The class was taught by me” BECOMES “I taught the class”

“This is the first time that USF has enrolled any female students” BECOMES “Women will attend USF for the first time this fall”

“There’s a lot of support of the proposition” BECOMES “Many people support the proposition”

Write First, Edit Later

Don’t worry about writing concisely on the first try. Go back later and make edits. Then have someone else read the piece and give feedback (ideally, someone who is of your target audience.) They will likely tell you words or sentences that sound redundant or don’t make sense. Then go back and make more edits. And while brevity is important, so is clarity. If your piece is brief, but not clear, then the purpose is defeated. When you get brevity right, you can say more with less words.