The Five C’s of Writing – Part 3: Conciseness

Imagine for a minute that you are an editor for Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Your job is to take a full-length novel and capture the entire plot along with the author’s voice, style, and “essence” in roughly one-fourth of the original word count. You would be a master of the Third C of Writing, Conciseness.

In public speaking, one is advised to “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, then tell ’em, and then tell ’em what you told ’em.” There is no need to do that with writing, because you can reread it right away if you don’t get it, and you can read it again later if you forget it. Rather than writing your idea three different ways hoping that the reader will understand at least one of them, it is better to revise and rewrite one idea more concisely, selecting the best possible way to express the thought.

Conciseness is the absence of wordiness and verbal clutter, which can take the form of redundancy, repetition, digressions, distractions, and the use of multiple words when a single, well chosen word will do. Direct and focused writing is the path to the Holy Grail of Clarity.

The Grammar Curmudgeon says: “While we must support our ideas with relevant details and examples, while we sometimes need explanations to clarify concepts, we must exercise verbal economy.” Whereas students strive to pad their writing to fill the two pages required by the teacher, business writers should do the opposite, tightening their verbiage so it is less verbose.
I call it “achieving a high beef to baloney ratio.”

“When reviewing their own work, some writers make a separate editorial pass exclusively for the purpose of removing deadwood,” the Grammar Curmudgeon says.
I call this “pruning,” and my pruning shears of choice are red pens.

The Aggie Horticulture website has this to say about pruning:
“Proper pruning enhances the beauty of almost any landscape tree and shrub…. pruning is the removal or reduction of certain plant parts that are not required, that are no longer effective, or that are of no use to the plant. It is done to supply additional energy for the development of flowers, fruits, and limbs that remain on the plant.”

Keep this metaphor in mind as you make that editorial pass to remove your verbal deadwood to attain Conciseness.


I have a rubber stamp I acquired back in the Cretaceous when I was in college:

If you can’t baffle them with brilliance, befuddle them with BS.


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