Nobody writes a perfect first draft. Whether you love the red pen or hate it with a passion, your first draft will require some polishing. The trick is to write prose that’s brilliant yet brief, colorful yet concise. Here are five tips for writing concisely.
Cut Weasel Words
Even the best writers fall prey to weasel words. These pesky critters sneak into your writing, take up space, and contribute nothing. Common weasel words include the following:
They often attack in groups. Consider these weasely phrases:
- “The vast majority . . .”
- “Studies suggest that . . .”
- “Some would argue that . . .”
After you write a draft, take time to banish all weasel words back to the wilderness where they belong.
Why do something twice if you only need to do it once? Redundant phrases clutter your writing and hinder its flow.
Consider the sentence: “I love the blue color of her eyes.”
“Blue color” is redundant. Your reader already understands that blue is a color. “I love her blue eyes” is more concise.
Another example: “The reason I’m reading this is because I love writing.”
You don’t need the word “reason” and the word “because” in the same sentence. One implies the other. “I’m reading this because I love writing” conveys your point with fewer words; it’s more concise.
Incorporate Transitional Words and Phrases
Transitional words and phrases unify ideas and make your writing easy to understand. Without them, your prose can come off as choppy and directionless.
- Transitional words like however, nevertheless, and conversely pave the way toward your next idea.
- Transitional phrases like for example and as shown by help readers understand that you’re clarifying an argument.
Next time you write, try to incorporate one or more transitional words or phrases to improve cohesion.
Go Easy on the Adverbs
Some writers resist adverbs the way a cat resists a leash. The grammar gods won’t strike you down if you insert an here or there, but before you do, read these two sentences:
- Adverbs aren’t horribly bad, but they’re usually not needed.
- Your writing will be more concise if you avoid adverbs.
Which sentence packs more of a punch? The one without adverbs – number two. Words that end in “ly” are often just that add no real meaning. Vivid writing shows the reader a picture; it doesn’t tell the reader what to think.
- “I broke my diet again!” Betty wailed sadly.
- “I broke my diet again!” Betty wailed, wiping salty chocolate tears from the corners of her mouth.
The second example includes no adverbs, and it creates a clearer picture in the reader’s mind than the first. We see the salty chocolate crumbs on Betty’s lips, and we feel her bittersweet anguish.
Skip “There is” and “There are”
You could be the most energetic person on earth, but writing “There is” or “There are” makes you look lazy. Consider rearranging your sentence parts when these pairings pop up in your writing.
- “There are lots of people in this world who love bumpy cake” becomes “People around the world love bumpy cake.”
- “There is a stink bug in every room of my house” becomes “Stink bugs have descended upon every room of my house.”
Plenty of writers, both amateur and professional, start their sentences with “There is” and “There are.” You needn’t be one of them.
Stephen King said, “To write is human. To edit is divine.” So the next time you find yourself wrestling with a few extra words, just remember: you’re in excellent company. Are you ready to pick up that red pen and start slashing?