Word Nerd: Why it’s important to write concisely

3 Apr

Business news reports sometimes refer to “manufacturing units” when they mean “factories”. One college library had a sign above its photocopier that read “Reprographic Unit”. We often use two or more long words when a short one would be enough. This sort of verbosity – sometimes the result of a shaky vocabulary, and at other times bureaucratic tradition – is quite common in India. People in the UK or US are less likely to call a factory a manufacturing unit, and probably wouldn’t understand “reprographic unit”.

It is not a good idea to write verbosely because of your personal taste or cultural influence. Concise writing has clear benefits, regardless of where you or your readers are. Indeed, if your reader is from a different part of the world than you – as when you write a personal essay for a college application to study abroad – it is especially important.

Being concise forces you to choose your words carefully, and thus makes your writing clearer and more focused. As a bonus, over time, you develop the habit of thinking more precisely.

Concise writing makes for more efficient and compelling communication. Readers understand you faster. If your writing requires less effort to read, you are less likely to lose your reader’s interest half-way.

Here are some examples of how you can trim your writing. In the table below, the column on the left quotes actual professionally written reports. On the right are alternative ways to say the same thing.

The column on the right has 32% fewer words. So if you were writing a 2,000-word essay, you would free up 640 words by writing concisely. This would let you add information or examples to strengthen your argument, making your essay more powerful.

Here are some tips for lean writing:

1. Edit yourself. Read what you have written, and remove unnecessary words. Even the best writers in the world benefit from editing.

2. Use the active voice where possible. It’s quicker to say “The professor gave the class a test” than “A test was given to the class by the professor”.

3. Use short words when possible, and avoid using archaic or obscure words. For example, try saying “suspend” instead of “rusticate”, “use” rather than “utilize”, “and” instead of “as well as”.

4. Work on your vocabulary. A good vocabulary will help you be concise without compromising on nuance and precision. Improving your vocabulary should be an ongoing project, regardless of your language skills. Read literary fiction, and look up words when you’re unsure what they mean.

5. Keep lists short. If you need to list examples, be illustrative rather than expansive. An exhaustive list is not always necessary.

So you can train yourself to write in a focused, clear, persuasive, and compelling manner. Don’t wait until you write the first draft of your personal essay – start now!

Check out more Word Nerd posts here!


By Uma Asher


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