5 tips for writing concisely

These tips for writing concisely will help teens express as much as possible without using unnecessary words or details.

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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.

~William Strunk, The Elements of Style

Conciseness boils down to this: expressing as much as possible without using unnecessary words or details. Concise writing is brief and precise, but that doesn’t mean it has to be dull and dry. Help your children apply some of these tips for more concise writing.

1. Stay on track

Staying on topic is a surefire way to encourage writing concisely. When your student takes tangents and rabbit trails, he loses his focus and ends up with cumbersome, awkward, or disjointed writing. Help him create an outline before he begins writing so that he’s less likely to wander off the path.

2.  Be precise

The more concrete the word choice, the clearer the writing. Your child can be wordy and say “the shaggy gray dog with the long hair hanging in his eyes,” or he can simply say “the gray sheepdog.”

3. Use plain English

Many students mistakenly think that big words impress. In truth, effective writing uses simple, straightforward language. While a handful of mature, well-placed vocabulary words can raise the level of a story or essay, using too many can make a piece of writing seem verbose, over the top, and just plain hard to read. Unless you’re writing for a scholarly audience, don’t overdo the vocabulary.

4. Avoid super-long sentences

To train children to be concise, attach a word limit or try restricting the number of paragraphs and sentences they can use. This will help them say what they need to say in the space allotted.

When kids are first learning to write descriptively and use a thesaurus, the pendulum can swing wildly from three-word sentences to 20 or 30-word sentences. It’s okay to give them the freedom to play with words; they’ll find their center over time. Just know that you may need to gently correct if their zeal begins creating log jams in their writing.

5.  Don’t be redundant

Redundancy refers to extra words or phrases that should be cut out. Your student’s ability to write concisely will always trump filling a page with unnecessary text.

It’s not uncommon for beginning writers to repeat themselves. But such repetition bogs down the writing and makes the reader work too hard. Here are two ways to eliminate redundancy:

  • Add concrete details, facts, or examples instead of rehashing the same point.
  • Slash unnecessary words and phrases. Remember: when two words will do the trick, why use a dozen? Encourage your student to read each sentence and paragraph to see if he can cut out any words. His point will be clearer, stronger, and easier to identify.

Encourage your kids to try some of these tips for writing concisely. They may be amazed to discover how sharp and crisp their writing can be!

Photo: Pete, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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12 comments ↓

#1 JoJo Tabares on 04.16.10 at 6:04 am

Very good points!

#2 Tiffany Harrison on 08.30.10 at 11:46 am

I don’t think we ever really consider the logistics of the words we use. What a may seem like a masterpiece to one person and seem like a disaster to another. Very good information to consider.

#3 Kim on 08.30.10 at 12:11 pm

So true, Tiffany. Thanks for stopping by!

#4 Laurie Bishop on 08.31.10 at 5:06 pm

I believe writings are more descriptive when the point is short, clear and concise. Also keeps a reader from getting bored with the same thing in several paragraphs

#5 Kim on 09.12.10 at 11:27 am

Absolutely. Laurie! Thank you for taking a moment to comment.

#6 Sherida Morrison on 09.27.10 at 5:57 pm

Great points! I use the “big” words often and I’m guilty but this will be taken into consideration!

#7 Renee Robinson on 11.22.10 at 1:20 pm

I learned about this concise wording with radio advertisements. It’s amazing how you learn to get to the point when it has to be done in increments of 10, 30, or 60 second slots to get a point out to 100,000+ people. You communicate better when the message is clear and to the point with the right inflection.

#8 Kim on 11.25.10 at 10:18 am

So true, Renee. Thank you for taking time to comment!

#9 April Thomas on 01.03.11 at 9:35 pm

Hello everyone! I truly enjoyed this article. My undergraduate studies shaped my foundations of Concise, APA writing. As a mass communications major, getting to the point was the point!
Chow~

#10 Ryan Kolquist on 05.02.11 at 9:46 am

These are great tips!

#11 LaShonda Harris on 05.02.11 at 12:25 pm

These are great points! Be precise and get straight to the point!

#12 Jonathan Riley on 05.02.11 at 5:06 pm

Definitely enjoyed this article because I find myself dragging on sentences 40% of the time when I write. Very helpful!