Thursday, January 1, 2009

Concise writing is usually clear writing (2)

With few exceptions, concise writing is clear writing. There are two reasons. First, in order to produce concise writing, the writer must choose words and syntax more carefully. The result, almost automatically, is clear writing.

Second, concise writing is more readable, because the reader has fewer words to process. Remember, a reader’s short-term memory can hold only so many words; so, the fewer the words you use to make your point, the more likely will the reader be able to follow you and comprehend your point.

In other words, concise writing is both quicker and easier to read.

Here is an example of wonderfully concise writing. It is a definition of the state, from the introduction of a new book: The Left, The Right, and The State, by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.:

“It is the group within society that claims for itself the exclusive right to rule everyone under a special set of laws that permit it to do to others what everyone else is rightly prohibited from doing, namely aggressing against person and property.”

It is a near-perfect (or perfect) example of concise writing: that is to say, it could be improved only in minute ways (if at all). Although it defines a complex idea, it is only 43 words long. So far as I can see, every word is needed; remove any word and you weaken the definition.

The Takeaway: Concise writing is usually clear writing. More concisely stated: shorter is usually clearer. When you have produced copy that is pretty clear but you want to make it clearer, try cutting 10 percent of the words. Or, if you are feeling unusually vigorous, try 20 percent. While cutting, you will usually choose clearer words and syntax. (If this is difficult for you, don’t get discouraged: concise writing is one of those skills that develop slowly and steadily over the years.)

Concise writing is usually clear writing (1)

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