Concise writing

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Concise writing

Postby amazinghat » Tue May 03, 2011 5:30 am UTC

Are there any stylistic tendencies and tips you guys can give me to have my writing be more short and concise?

Starting with analyzing the above sentence and shortening it would help. D:
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Re: Concise writing

Postby poxic » Tue May 03, 2011 5:43 am UTC

"How can I learn to write more concisely?"

:wink:

Drill down to what you really mean*. Can you be more precise? Specifically, can you summarise what you just said? Can you say it ... shorter, and more accurately?

It's all a balance, of course. "Balance everything" would be more concise than the first sentence of this paragraph, but probably less informative. The addition of "of course" and the semi-cliché "it's all a balance" (the real cliché would be "it's a balancing act") together make something interesting and still short enough to not bore us silly.

And the last sentence above is ridiculous. All the quotes and parentheses make it hard to read. How could I say that better? Seriously, I have to think about it. This is another lesson: good writing rarely comes from the first draft. Editing and rewriting is 90% of good writing.

Idunno. Can anyone else rewrite that sentence? The one that begins "The addition of"?


* I edited this sentence twice. Heh.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby Iulus Cofield » Tue May 03, 2011 6:53 am UTC

poxic wrote:"How can I learn to write more concisely?"

:wink:

Drill down to what you really mean*. Can you be more precise? Specifically, can you summarise what you just said? Can you say it ... shorter, and more accurately?

It's all a balance, of course. "Balance everything" would be more concise than the first sentence of this paragraph, but probably less informative. The addition of "of course" and the semi-cliché "it's all a balance" (the real cliché would be "it's a balancing act") together make something interesting and still short enough to not bore us silly.

And the last sentence above is ridiculous. All the quotes and parentheses make it hard to read. How could I say that better? Seriously, I have to think about it. This is another lesson: good writing rarely comes from the first draft. Editing and rewriting is 90% of good writing.

Idunno. Can anyone else rewrite that sentence? The one that begins "The addition of"?

* I edited this sentence twice. Heh.


"Give me tips for concise writing."

Be precise. Avoid all unnecessaries.
It's all a balance, of course. "Balance everything" is more concise, but lacks content. "Of course" and "it's all a balance" add worthwhile, but brief, content.

My prose is absurd. Its components obfuscate. Can I improve it? I wonder. Good writers edit.

Practice rewriting my fifth sentence.

Warning: This technique resembles Racter.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby randzman@verizon.net » Wed May 11, 2011 3:26 am UTC

As I only write good, not well, I hope I can help.

My only tips off the top of me head are to remove prepositions and avoid corporate jargon (I can't stand 'utilize'... use 'use'!)

Here's a great link.
http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/concise.htm
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Re: Concise writing

Postby Roĝer » Wed May 11, 2011 7:14 pm UTC

USE ALL CAPS LOCK
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Re: Concise writing

Postby TaintedDeity » Wed May 11, 2011 8:31 pm UTC

I like to break the sentence up into 20 parts, roll a D20 and remove the number that comes up.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby goofy » Wed May 11, 2011 11:48 pm UTC

What's with this obsession with writing concisely? Is there a word shortage? Are we going to run out of words? I blame Orwell's "If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out" and Strunk and White's "Omit needless words". I say, don't use the fewest number of words, use the right number of words. If Peake had tried to write concisely, Gormenghast would be nowhere near as good.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby GhostWolfe » Fri May 13, 2011 12:10 am UTC

Depends on what font you're using, I guess.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby poxic » Fri May 13, 2011 12:26 am UTC

You're mostly looking for a balance between concise and descriptive. Mostly. It depends on what you're trying to do.

Writing an essay for class, or a short newspaper article, or a technical specification at work? Keep things brief but informative. People don't have the time or, usually, the desire to slog through a lot of words to get to the point.

Writing a novel in lyric prose, or a short story in a conversational style? Be as wordy as you need to be, but beware of overloading the reader with too much of everything. You still want clarity and flow.

The standard advice is to cut wherever possible. Most beginning writers are impressed by their own writing, so up goes the word count. It's good training to learn to write sparingly. One exercise is to trim away everything that doesn't lend significant meaning, then choose one word to add back in. Which word will add the most value?
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Re: Concise writing

Postby Qaanol » Fri May 13, 2011 3:46 am UTC

Use nouns. Use verbs. That is it.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby Aiwendil » Mon May 16, 2011 12:03 am UTC

Qaanol wrote:Use nouns. Use verbs. That is it.


And pronouns, apparently.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby Sir Novelty Fashion » Thu May 26, 2011 2:14 am UTC

goofy wrote:What's with this obsession with writing concisely? Is there a word shortage? Are we going to run out of words? I blame Orwell's "If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out" and Strunk and White's "Omit needless words". I say, don't use the fewest number of words, use the right number of words. If Peake had tried to write concisely, Gormenghast would be nowhere near as good.

Almost exactly what I was going to say. Well, except that would add that I want to burn all copies of Strunk and White. It's prescriptivist tosh, by and large, and deeply unhelpful to the cause of good writing. It's also responsible for the near-obliteration of the subjunctive and passive in written English, which should be crime enough for the sentence to be carried.

Well, I'd also differ on the "right number" - I say you should use more words, not fewer. Buck the trend, screw Strunk, and demonstrate with electric fury your contempt for the mediocracy.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby Cheezwhiz Jenkins » Thu Jun 02, 2011 2:32 am UTC

Although this isn't what OP asked, I get the feeling the question ultimately has more to do with a general "how can I improve my writing" kind of search. (Might be wrong and they're specifically working on being concise, though.)

There's no magic bullet for good writing. Obviously. But it's kind of worse than that, because It's not just a balancing act, it's a subjective balancing act. It can't be boiled down to "be concise" and little rules like that are so vague and result in poor writing so often that they are useless. Concise isn't always good!

As to the question of how to be more concise - get rid of synonyms, consider whether one adjective can replace multiple adjectives, or a whole phrase, and combine multiple ideas in the same sentence. But this tells you very little about how to ensure your writing is of good quality.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby Ortus » Thu Jun 02, 2011 4:09 am UTC

goofy wrote:What's with this obsession with writing concisely? Is there a word shortage? Are we going to run out of words? I blame Orwell's "If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out" and Strunk and White's "Omit needless words". I say, don't use the fewest number of words, use the right number of words. If Peake had tried to write concisely, Gormenghast would be nowhere near as good.


It could be argued that any word placed half-assedly, without passion or prose, is a needless word. The words and where they are placed are often of incredible import to the specific writings, and so I read Orwell's sentence not as, "If you can say it with less, do so", but as, "If it does not fit, remove it". So you could have a thousand words in a sentence that fit, and are necessary, and still be keeping in the spirit of the quote. Or, at least, the way I interpret it.


Concise writing, however, can be just as important as using a plethora of words importantly.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby goofy » Thu Jun 02, 2011 1:38 pm UTC

Ortus wrote:It could be argued that any word placed half-assedly, without passion or prose, is a needless word. The words and where they are placed are often of incredible import to the specific writings, and so I read Orwell's sentence not as, "If you can say it with less, do so", but as, "If it does not fit, remove it". So you could have a thousand words in a sentence that fit, and are necessary, and still be keeping in the spirit of the quote. Or, at least, the way I interpret it.


Maybe... but in other places in the essay Orwell talks about how fewer words are better than more words:

[the defense of the English language] does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one's meaning.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby Ortus » Thu Jun 02, 2011 7:06 pm UTC

goofy wrote:
Ortus wrote:It could be argued that any word placed half-assedly, without passion or prose, is a needless word. The words and where they are placed are often of incredible import to the specific writings, and so I read Orwell's sentence not as, "If you can say it with less, do so", but as, "If it does not fit, remove it". So you could have a thousand words in a sentence that fit, and are necessary, and still be keeping in the spirit of the quote. Or, at least, the way I interpret it.


Maybe... but in other places in the essay Orwell talks about how fewer words are better than more words:

[the defense of the English language] does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one's meaning.



I haven't read the essay, so I was going off of that one quote. Again, even with that quote, the, "fewest and shortest words that will cover one's meaning" isn't strictly calling for few and short words - just the fewest and shortest words that fit with what meaning you are trying to convey. That goes back to necessity: are you needlessly placing big words or a large amount of words in your writing for no reason? If so, use fewer and shorter words, and if not, you're doing fine even with a plethora* of long-ass and difficult words.

Though I have read the essay now, and you're probably right; I still prefer my interpretation, but I don't think that is what Orwell was going for, exactly.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby Mat » Fri Jun 03, 2011 8:46 am UTC

amazinghat wrote:Are there any stylistic tendencies and tips you guys can give me to have my writing be more short and concise?

Starting with analyzing the above sentence and shortening it would help. D:


I'm not much of a writer, but I think the most relevant part of the Orwell article is this:
Operators or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.


In your sentence you have the awkward phrase "have my writing be more short and concise". "more short" also seems redundant when you have "more concise".

Verbifying "concise" doesn't work (concisify? concicen?) but you can make writing the verb instead...

Are there any stylistic tendencies and tips you guys can give me to have my writing be more short and concise?
-> Are there any stylistic tendencies and tips you guys can give me for writing more concisely?

The first part is also a rather roundabout way of asking for tips. Do you really care about "stylistic tendencies" or do you want practical advice? I don't think there is any loss of meaning if you change that to
"Are there any tips you guys can give me for writing more concisely?"
and then "Can you guys give me any tips for writing more concisely?"

There are shorter ways of putting it, such as poxic's "How can I learn to write more concisely?" but the sentence structure and vocabulary is already very simple, so shortening further than this won't gain you much in readability.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby goofy » Fri Jun 03, 2011 1:51 pm UTC

Orwell wrote:In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active


That's gotta be a joke, right?
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Re: Concise writing

Postby firechicago » Fri Jun 03, 2011 9:54 pm UTC

goofy wrote:
Orwell wrote:In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active


That's gotta be a joke, right?


I 'm pretty sure that in that passage Orwell is describing the type of writing that he hates. (I spent a couple years making my living by my pen, writing for a political action group, and I kept a copy of that essay tacked to the side of cubicle, not so much for its specific stylistic advice, as for its forceful argument that clear writing is an important adjunct to clear thought, and both clear writing and clear thought are moral imperatives. Only by fuzzy writing and fuzzy thinking can we justify the unjustifiable.)
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Re: Concise writing

Postby goofy » Sat Jun 04, 2011 12:17 am UTC

firechicago wrote:
I 'm pretty sure that in that passage Orwell is describing the type of writing that he hates.

yeah I know, but he uses the passive voice in the very sentence where he complains that the passive voice is overused. Either it's a joke, or he can't follow his own rules.

I disagree with just about everything he writes in that essay btw. Orwell was a good writer, but he knew nothing about how language works.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby cntrational » Sun Jun 05, 2011 12:24 am UTC

Orwell is condemning things like "collateral damage" or "downsizing" instead of "civilian deaths" and "firings" -- wishy washy language. But he confuses it with conciseness. Conciseness is a way to avoid wishy washyness, but it isn't the only way.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby Insatyable » Sat Jun 18, 2011 4:15 am UTC

goofy wrote:
firechicago wrote:
I 'm pretty sure that in that passage Orwell is describing the type of writing that he hates.

yeah I know, but he uses the passive voice in the very sentence where he complains that the passive voice is overused. Either it's a joke, or he can't follow his own rules.

I disagree with just about everything he writes in that essay btw. Orwell was a good writer, but he knew nothing about how language works.

Please tell me how you would write that sentence using the active voice. I doubt he was trying to say that the passive voice should never be used.

I don't quite understand what there is to object to in a passage that condemns pretentious, unnecessarily complicated writing.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby goofy » Sat Jun 18, 2011 4:03 pm UTC

Insatyable wrote:Please tell me how you would write that sentence using the active voice.


"The writer uses the passive voice in preference to the active whenever possible." He could have rewritten these three paragraphs to use the active voice.

Insatyable wrote:I doubt he was trying to say that the passive voice should never be used.


No, he was saying that it was overused. But he provides no measure we can use to judge when our writing has just enough or too many passive clauses. And why can't he follow his own rule and make an effort to use as few passive clauses as possible? Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage notes
Bryant 1962 reports three statistical studies of passive versus active sentences in various periodicals; the highest incidence of passive constructions was 13 percent. Orwell runs to a little over 20 percent in "Politics and the English Language."


Orwell's essay, where he warns us not to overuse the passive voice, contains more passive clauses than any periodical.

Insatyable wrote:I don't quite understand what there is to object to in a passage that condemns pretentious, unnecessarily complicated writing.


My main problem with the essay is the assumption that language is in decline. Orwell provides no evidence that the words and phrases he dislikes are more common now than there were in the past, or more common now than they need to be. It's also full of linguistic determinism; he assumes that writing is a direct line to thought, and that thought directly influences writing to such an extent that if you use language Orwell doesn't like, it will turn you into a machine. I agree with Geoffrey Pullum, who said it contained "pointless and unfollowable insistence that good writing must avoid all familiar phrases and word usages", and David Beaver, who said

Orwell begins with the unjustified premise that language is in decline - unjustified because while he viciously attacks contemporary cases of poor writing, he provides no evidence that earlier times had been perennially populated by paragons of literary virtue. He proceeds to shore up the declining language with style suggestions that, regrettably enough, have never turned a Dan Brown into a George Orwell.
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Re: Concise writing

Postby Cheezwhiz Jenkins » Sun Jun 19, 2011 12:27 am UTC

goofy wrote: And why can't he follow his own rule and make an effort to use as few passive clauses as possible?


I think it's safe to assume that the passive voice is used in a partly ironic, partly illustrative way.
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