Concise Writing: Cut the Fat!

overweight woman on an exercise bike

Many Americans (including me!) have bad eating habits. Too much junk food. Too much food, period! We’re overstuffed. We suffer health problems and image problems. We must cut the fat.

When our writing becomes overstuffed, our readers suffer through pages of boring narrative. And we suffer, too — our success is endangered. We must cut the fat!

Obese writing is nothing new. In The King’s English, published nearly a century ago, author H.W. Fowler begins the first chapter with these words:

Any one who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.

Fowler continues by suggesting the following rules:

Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
Prefer the concrete word to the abstract.
Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
Prefer the short word to the long.
Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.

The first edition of The Elements of Style contains the following paragraph:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

And the American Heritage Book of English Usage sums it up well:

Most of us are busy and impatient people. We hate to wait. Using too many words is like asking people to stand in line until you get around to the point. It is irritating, which hardly helps when you are trying to win someone’s goodwill or show that you know what you’re talking about. What is worse, using too many words often makes it difficult to understand what is being said. It forces a reader to work hard to figure out what is going on, and in many cases the reader may simply decide it is not worth the effort. Another side effect of verbosity is the tendency to sound overblown, pompous, and evasive. What better way to turn off a reader?

A Google search on “wordiness” produces a vast list of articles:

Do you have any resources on concise writing to add to this list? Please share your favorites in the comments section.

Until next time,

Happy Blogging!

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