When you write, keep it tight

February 4, 2010

When it comes to good writing, nothing is more important than writing concisely, which leads to writing clearly. As students of The Elements of Style know, eliminating unnecessary words “requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail … but that every word tell.”

Writing concisely becomes habit-forming if you work at it. One of the best exercises is to go through first drafts and delete all words that bring nothing to the table. A few tips:

  • Eliminate redundancies. “Close proximity” becomes “proximity” since by definition it means “close to.” A “hot-water heater” of course is a “water heater.” A “three-way love triangle” is two words too many.
  • Don’t overuse modifiers. If “important” is not strong enough, try “crucial” rather than “very important.”
  • “Currently” is perhaps the most overused unnecessary word. “I am currently sitting here” merely clarifies that I’m not time-traveling. Use “currently” only when required and you will find you use it sparingly.

There are many more lurking in your writing. Find them. Eliminate them.


8 Responses to “When you write, keep it tight”

  1. georgiaredhead Says:

    Can’t lie. I’m a chronic user of “currently.” I’m sure that from here on out I will think of this post every time I write “currently.” Thanks, Roger!

  2. Cindy Wall Says:

    Wise words, Mr. Shirley, wise words. (Your advice is crucial. Hence, I resort to redundancy.)

  3. Rob Robinson Says:

    I use “recently” too often when writing. I use “actually” too often when speaking. I need to cut down on both, but I’m hooked. 😉

  4. Margie Says:

    I tend to use “certainly” and “of course” a lot. And, well, I really like those words, so I don’t really plan on stopping! Ha!

    • Anonymous Says:

      “Of course” is a tighter than “This is a really obvious point, whether you agree or not” so it’s OK. Likewise, “certainly” is better than “if you disagree with me you are an idiot.”

  5. Rob Robinson Says:

    You are certainly entitled to keep on keeping on, Margie, of course! 😉

  6. […] first MP&F blog post extolled the virtues of concise writing (When you write, keep it tight, February 4, 2010). One of the bullet points was about eliminating redundancies. The other day I […]

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