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The Art of Writing Succinctly

Learning how to convey meaning in just a few words is a skill. Whether writing an essay, an article, promotional text, or a creative piece, choosing the right words is essential.


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Avoid using passive voice


Many writers use passive voice instead of active voice. While passive voice is not grammatically incorrect, it allows the verb to act upon the subject which can result in a lack of clarity.


· Passive voice: My first party will always be remembered by me. (9 words)

· Passive voice: The vase was broken by my brother. (7 words)


The active voice makes the subject act upon the verb:


· Active voice: I will always remember my first party. (7 words)

· Active voice: My brother broke the vase. (5 words)


The active voice is clearer to read and requires fewer words to convey the same meanings.


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Say what you mean


Transforming complex thoughts into succinct sentences can be daunting. All too often, writers overexplain ideas in their desire to ensure reader comprehension. Learning to write succinctly while maintaining clarity and interest can be achieved by learning to say exactly what you mean.


· Overexplained: He strode across the room, heading straight for the door at the far end and placing his hand on the shiny doorknob, he slowly turned it in a clockwise motion until the door clicked open.


While this sentence is descriptive, it is not necessary for us to know exactly how 'he' reached the door and opened it. The reader becomes bored by this sentence and the pace is automatically slower.


· Revised: He strode across the room and slowly opened the door.


There may be less detail here but the sentence gets straight to the point and leaves readers to fill in some of the details for themselves.


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Edit lengthy sentences


Meanings are often obscured by overly long sentences where writers either fail to use to right punctuation to offer pause to the reader or use too many words when one or two will do and this leads to unclear and complex writing where readers will quickly become bored and will want to skip to the next part or will give up entirely.


The above sentence contains sixty-three words. It is long, repetitive and lacks punctuation. The same sentence can be paraphrased without affecting the meaning:


· Long, wordy sentences that lack punctuation can obscure meanings and disinterest readers. (twelve words, one sentence)


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Eliminate useless information


This is another simple way to improve your writing.


Example: Every child should be taught how to read. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, children don’t have access to a good education or cannot afford to buy books. My friend Sam, for example, couldn’t buy any books in primary school. I always felt sorry for him. While there is a greater focus on providing books for children around the world, we’re still not doing enough to make a difference.


Not only is there too much explanation, but here the reference to ‘My friend Sam’ is irrelevant and takes readers on a tangent. The paragraph is more focused without it.


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Watch out for tautology


Tautology is where a phrase or expression is said twice using different words. It is a common fault in writing and contributes to unclear meanings and 'wordiness'. Fortunately, it can easily be resolved.


· Example: She turned her head to look over her shoulder.

· Revised: She looked over her shoulder.


· Example: The close proximity of their birthdays was frustrating.

· Revised: The proximity of their birthdays was frustrating.

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Limit adjectives


Using too many adjectives can weaken descriptive sentences.


· Example: The blue-green waves sparkled and glimmered in the bright, golden sunlight.

· Revised: The turquoise waves sparkled in the sunlight.


In some cases, when the rule of three is applied, three adjectives can work, providing they have different meanings:


· The forest was ancient, mossy and dark.


If meanings are too similar, the adjectives become overpowering:


· The forest was shadowy, dusky and dark.


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Choose powerful vocabulary


One final way to make sure your writing is succinct is by using 'powerful' words. Avoid using too many words and cut out words like 'very'!


· Example: The sun is very hot.

· Revised: The sun is scorching.


· Example: The grass is very fresh and green.

· Revised: The grass is luscious.


Using language techniques like similes and metaphors can conjure precise images without having to overexplain or use 'weak' and 'useless' words.


· Example: The clouds look fat, fluffy and white.

· Revised: The clouds look like cotton wool.


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To sum up


Writing succinctly is an art but with the right techniques, it can be mastered. While lengthier descriptions have their place, writing with precision will often have a greater impact.


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