How to level up your articles with shorter and clearer sentences.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser is one of my favorite writing books because it improved my style like nothing else before.
Thanks to Zinsser, I learned consistency is necessary for content creation. But it is not enough.
The best writers don’t only write every day. They also improve their craft by cutting the unnecessary and fancy parts.
Examine every word you put on paper. You will find a surprising number that doesn’t serve any purpose.– William Zinsser
From that moment, I obsessed over conciseness in my article. And even if my results fail sometimes, I found 5 ways to write more concise articles I check every time in my editing sessions.
1 — Delete useless words.
Deleting useless words is the first thing I learned about conciseness.
Unnecessary words weigh down many online articles. Most of them are colloquialisms we use when talking. And without them, the sentence sounds weird or incomplete. But we should learn to remove them to write more concise articles.
When I edit my articles, I analyze each sentence and ask myself three questions:
- Which is the meaning of the sentence?
- Is there any word that doesn’t add anything substantial to that meaning?
- Can I delete that word without changing the purpose of the sentence?
Since I am definitely late on the submission timeline, I will completely drop the article.
You can remove the words in bold because they don’t add anything to the sentence’s meaning. The degree of lateness does not matter. And neither does the completeness of your action. So the final sentence becomes: Since I am late on the submission timeline, I will drop the article.
However, you should know that your economic situation won’t help you get better grades.
Here, many filler words diluted the basic concept of the sentence. Richness is a better explain an economic situation. And you don’t need the introductory part. So the concise sentence becomes: Your richness, however, won’t help you get better grades.
2 — Cut repetitions.
First drafts contain multiple repetitions because you still don’t have the final version in mind, so you tend to duplicate concepts. If you write an outline before, you will cut some of them. But you might still repeat some ideas.
In the final draft, repetitions are an interest killer. And readers won’t appreciate reading about the same concept twice or thrice. So try to highlight possible repetitions during the editing process and rewrite them all at once.
It was a bad day. In fact, it was the worst day of my life.
The two sentences are complete. But they contain a repetition of the same concept. And even if you can use this writing in fictional stories to create a link with the narrating character, it doesn’t help in non-fiction. So the concise sentence becomes: It was the worst day of my life.
You can randomly choose any topic you want.
The randomness doesn’t add anything to the concept of selection, which is already random. Also, you don’t need to emphasize the freedom of choice. So the final sentence becomes: You can select any topic.
3 — Don’t tell, show.
Telling people what I was about to do was one of the most predominant problems in my articles, and it still is sometimes.
But when you tell people something instead of showing them, you put yourself in the equation, and the reader will feel your uncomfortable presence. So instead of focusing on your article, they will focus on you.
So you don’t want to guide the audience too much because:
- you will distract them
- and you might sound pretentious.
So here are 5 ways to write more concise articles.
You don’t need to tell your readers what is following because they can understand it from the headline, the numeration, and even the subheading.
When Sebastian hugged Sara, the scent of smoke scared him.
Here, you are giving information through words, but the reader is not using imagination. So instead of telling the reader what happened, show them: When Sebastian wrapped his arms around Sara, the staleness of tobacco made him shiver.
4 — Choose an active voice.
Active voice is a treasure new writers fear.
Writing my first articles, I used the passive voice because I was too worried to say the wrong things. But with time, I understood the power of the active one. So now I use it to give more strength to my articles and write concise sentences.
You can recognize passive voice tellers while editing by spotting:
- sentences with “by”
- forms of “to be”
- or intricate sentences.
And even if there are spots where you can use the passive voice, in most cases, you won’t.
Every night, the office is vacuumed and dusted by the cleaning crew.
The passive voice inverts the subject and the object of a sentence, subtracting the force of action from the first and giving it to the second. The subject’s weakness, however, takes away the power of the sentence. So a better version would be: The cleaning crew vacuums and dusts the office every night.
5 — Trim long sentences.
Short sentences are the simplest way to convey a message and give rhythm to your piece. But if you surround your statement with too many words, you may mislead the reader toward the wrong message.
Amateur writers avoid short sentences, thinking they will sound less sophisticated. Therefore, they produce long sentences with vague words to compensate for their fear. But if you want to write more concise content, trim down sentences and cut the redundant parts.
As you can see, the result of the analysis reveals that there are very different motivations behind the actions of each chosen competitor, so they will be judged separately.
The sentence above has many listed problems, but it is also too long to keep the reader engaged. So besides removing filler words, it also requires a split: The result of the analysis reveals different motivations behind the actions of each competitor. So the jury will judge them separately.
Yet too many short sentences can fragment your thought and alienate your audience. So if you want to be clear and concise, vary between shorter and longer sentences.
A list of non-concise expressions
- all the time → always
- in order to → to
- due to the fact that → because, since
- in spite of → although, despite
- provided that → if
- make use of → use
- a greater degree of → more
- a majority of → most
Since I started writing, I found 5 ways to write more concise articles. But these are not the only ones.
I am not a native English speaker. So I might miss many of them. But with constant diligence, I will find them all.
So if you are a new author or struggle writing more concise pieces, you can follow these five suggestions.
First, delete useless words and repetitions. Then, take care of your ability to narrate a story instead of describing it.
You will feel the tendency to write in a passive voice, but the active one is stronger, so use it. And finally, trim long sentences, or you might confuse your audience and make it miss the point.
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