You write concisely when you convey information or express your thoughts in as few words as possible. However, conciseness is a relative concept. Depending on your readers’ needs, you may require considerably more or fewer words to communicate with them. In general, the more familiar readers are with a topic, a concept, or the history of a problem, the less background and explanation they need. Conversely, the less they know, the more background information and explanation they require.

How readers will use the information you provide also helps determine how much detail to include. For example, senior managers often want only the big picture in a condensed form they can read quickly. Therefore, executive summaries are most often pared to the bone and contain a point-form list of recommendations. On the other hand, engineers responsible for installing complex systems need specific, detailed information. These readers are often most interested in the minute technical detail provided in appendices.

While purpose and audience are keys to determining how much information to include, the style of your sentences affects how many words you require to make a particular point. In this section, we focus on conciseness as a stylistic issue at the sentence level. Note, however, that you cannot view sentences in isolation. The nature of the topic and the needs of readers remain important considerations, sentence by sentence.

Conciseness is a relative concept. If your sentences can be too wordy, they can also be too concise. Although we have used the words too wordy, we caution you not to equate conciseness with some vague notion of having used too many words. Writers who are advised that their writing is too wordy sometimes take this advice literally and pare down the number of words in a sentence to the point where they omit the context and eliminate the repetition readers need to make sense of the words on the page. Revising for conciseness is a matter of eliminating unnecessary words, but not of eliminating information, context, and useful repetition.

At the sentence level, revising to create a more concise style involves learning what to look for. Strategies discussed in the sections on revising for order and clarity also improve conciseness, such as revising for passive constructions and empty openers. In this section on conciseness, we focus on three common stylistic habits that tend to occur together: a noun-based style, reliance on talkie verbs, and habitual use of wordy phrases. Revising for these three features can make your writing more concise as well as easier to read and comprehend.

  • Verbal Style
  • Descriptive Verbs
  • Wordy Phrases