Less is more, they say. Which, to be honest, kind of bothers me because it’s inherently incorrect. Less most certainly is not more—it is less.
However, there are times when having less is better. So for the sake of accuracy, let’s say this—less is better…sometimes.
So far I’ve said practically nothing, and I feel better already, which I think proves my point.
So when is less better?
Certainly it’s not better to have less money when it’s time to pay rent or to have less wine when spending the weekend at your brother-in-law Chad’s house.
However, when writing a strong essay, less can be better.
Reading a concisely written essay, with fewer words, is better than slogging through page after page of drivel.
So let’s learn about concise writing—that is, how to write a strong essay with fewer words.
What Is Concise Writing?
How you talk to a friend is different than the way you talk to your boss. And how you write a Facebook post should be different than how you write an essay in English class.
However, sometimes one leaks into the other. It’s quite common for students to fill their essays with casual language written in a conversational tone.
The problem with conversation is that it’s wordy.
Ahem. We speak using many unneeded words.
Concise writing is that which makes a strong point using few words. The idea is to rid your sentences of any unneeded words and structure them in the most effective way. This will make your writing more concise—and therefore easier to read and digest.
Write an Outline and Follow Your Thesis
The first step in writing a focused, concise essay is to stick to the script without meandering off into another subject. Well, I guess that’s the second step because first you need a script.
An outline is an important tool in the writing process that students often skip. Don’t do that. Seriously. You need this blueprint to help you stay on subject. Without it, you will have trouble being concise.
The outline allows you to examine how best to organize your essay to prove your thesis.
Do a Close Edit
It’s quite all right for the first draft of your essay to be a bit wordy. It’s important that you let your ideas flow without worrying too much about whether you’re writing concisely. It doesn’t have to be perfectly concise writing the first go-round.
That’s why we revise. And you must revise!
So once you have written the first draft of your essay, I suggest you then do what I call a close edit. A close edit involves carefully reading each sentence, looking at each word, and thinking of ways it could be rewritten more concisely.
However, before doing a close edit, it’s important to know the common mistakes writers make and how you can edit them to make your writing more concise.
So here are a few ways in which you can make your writing more concise during the close-edit process.
Use your active voice
The active voice means that the subject of the sentence (usually the person) is doing something to an object. For example: “Jack mails the letter.”
The passive voice is when the sentence is reordered so that the subject of the sentence is being acted upon. For example: “The letter was mailed by Jack.”
In almost all circumstances, the active voice is the way to go. It’s more concise.
Avoid adjective and adverb abuse
Although adjectives and adverbs can seem like a good way to spice up your paper, they often become overused, cluttering your writing.
Mark Twain said, “When you find an adjective, kill it.” Well, that’s a bit harsh, but you should be careful not to use too many. The same goes for adverbs.
It’s common to find a statement written more than once in the same paper. Sometimes writers will say the same thing in different ways.
For example: “An increased dropout rate leads to more crime. The crime rates have increased as more students have failed to finish high school.”
There’s no need to say it twice.
Moreover, many writers seem to feel the need to reiterate things that were just stated in a previous paragraph.
For example: “Now that it has been established that an increase in dropouts leads to more crime, let’s take a look at the dropout rates around the country.”
There’s no need to repeat that information here. It just slows the flow of your essay.
Improve your verb usage
Look for moments in your paper when the verbs can be improved. Avoid using verb phrases where you can use a stronger verb instead.
For example: Instead of writing, “The temperature went down,” you can write, “The temperature decreased.”
Also, instead of writing, “Jaundice is an indication of liver disease,” you can write, “Jaundice indicates liver disease.”
Use a thesaurus and a dictionary
When we can’t find the right word to express ourselves, we tend to get wordy as a way of working around it. Being concise means finding that right word, so learn to use the thesaurus and dictionary when these moments pop up.
You might write, “The politician explained the benefits of supporting her campaign.” However, you can make it more concise by writing, “The politician promoted her campaign.”
Cut useless words
There are some pointless words in the English language that we tend to use a lot. Learn to avoid these in your writing.
For example, don’t write, “The judges love the way in which she dances,” when you can write, “The judges love how she dances.”
And avoid using the words “really” and “very.” They are truly pointless. There’s no reason to say “really big” or “very big” when you can say “huge.”
Mark Twain again nailed it when he said, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
It’s common for people to write expressions like “the reason is because” or “the reason why is.” Some even get a little crazy and write “the reason why is because.” Don’t be these people.
Some people argue that the above phrases are grammatically correct, but you should avoid these types of sticky phrases.
Instead, use the more concise phrase “the reason is.”
Ditch the expletives
I don’t mean certain four-letter words (though you should probably avoid those as well). Expletives are words or phrases that are used as filler without adding any real value to the writing. So they’re pretty much the enemy of concise writing.
For example: Instead of writing, “There are many scientists who believe,” write, “Many scientists believe.” Avoid writing “there are.” The same goes for “there is.”
Also, don’t write, “It is clear the stock market will crash,” when you can simply write, “The stock market will crash.”
Use an apostrophe
A simple way to make your writing clearer, more concise, and easier to read is by using the apostrophe.
For example: “The judge’s opinion” is more concise than “the opinion of the judge.”
While doing a close edit, look for opportunities to combine sentences. You shouldn’t overdo it, of course, but there will be times when two sentence can and should be rewritten into one.
For example: “Some people believe that improving mental health services is the key to stopping gun violence. Other people believe decreasing the number of guns is the key to stopping gun violence.”
That’s perfectly fine, but it’s better to write it as one sentence: “While some people believe improving mental health services is the key to stopping gun violence, others believe we must decrease the number of guns.”
Get to the point
Always keep your thesis in mind. The point of your essay is to prove that one statement. There may be some details that seem interesting, but they shouldn’t be included unless they’re important to proving the point of your thesis.
For example, you may think it sounds better to write, “The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor with a combination of torpedoes and bombers,” than to simply write, “The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.”
However, unless your thesis is specifically related to what the Japanese used to attack Pearl Harbor, the second sentence is more concise and to the point of your essay.
All Part of the Process
This may seem like a lot to think about when you’re writing, but concise writing is just one step in the writing process.
As I mentioned briefly before, you shouldn’t be too concerned with writing a perfectly concise first draft. Instead, the first draft is a chance to let your ideas flow naturally.
The second and third drafts of your essay offer the chance to do a close edit and take out any and all fluff. This is what revision is all about. And it’s an incredibly important part of the process.
If you need help with it, I suggest you send your essay to one of the editors at Kibin. They will ensure that your essay is strong and concise.