THE BLOG
03/27/2014 04:33 pm ET Updated May 27, 2014

How To Write More Concisely

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Words are flawed, but they can easily be fixed. Words exist to be thought and then formed, to be written and then revised, and even to be said and then denied. They can be misused and neglected or cared for and corrected.

Inadequate though they may be, words distinguish us from all other living things. Only humans can reflect on the past and plan for the future; it is language that allows us to do so. Indeed, our worth is partly in our words. Effective use of language--clear writing and speaking--is a measure of our humanness.

When they do their work best, words help people communicate; they promote understanding between people. And this, being well understood, is precisely the goal we should all aspire to when writing and speaking. As obvious as this seems, it is not a goal we commonly achieve.

Words often ill serve their purpose. When they do their work badly, words militate against us. Poor grammar, sloppy syntax, abused words, misspelled words, and other infelicities of style impede communication and advance only misunderstanding. But there is another, perhaps less well-known, obstacle to effective communication: too many words.

Reducing the number of words in a phrase

• The real test, however, lies in the degree to which the man's performance at his regular job improves.

The real test, however, lies in how much the man's performance at his regular job improves.

Insofar as the implementation of new curricula is concerned, the situation is going back to normal.

As for the implementation of new curricula, the situation is going back to normal.

• While interest in mindfulness meditation as a stress reliever has grown through the years, there's been little evidence to support that it helps those suffering from chronic inflammation in which psychological stress plays a significant role.

While interest in mindfulness meditation as a stress reliever has grown through the years, there's been little evidence that it helps those suffering from chronic inflammation in which psychological stress plays a significant role.

Substituting a single word for a phrase

• The practice is in violation of perjury laws requiring candidates to attest that every signature was signed in person.

The practice violates perjury laws requiring candidates to attest that every signature was signed in person.

Despite the fact that her recent mammogram had come back perfect, the ultrasound turned up a suspicious dark spot on her left breast.

Although her recent mammogram had come back perfect, the ultrasound turned up a suspicious dark spot on her left breast.

• I think to a large extent this kind of problem is a function of our society's inability to talk about sexuality in a reasonable way.

I think this kind of problem is largely a function of our society's inability to talk about sexuality in a reasonable way.

Deleting extraneous words or phrases

• The three-acre park is located in the center of the village.

The three-acre park is in the center of the village.

• He or she must develop strategies to resolve potentially disruptive or dysfunctional conflict situations.

He or she must develop strategies to resolve potentially disruptive or dysfunctional conflicts.

• The Japanese government is not supplying much in the way of guidance concerning comparative advantages involved in investments in particular countries.

The Japanese government is not supplying much guidance concerning comparative advantages involved in investments in particular countries.

A further benefit of applying some polish, of expressing ourselves more concisely, is that mistakes in grammar and word usage often are corrected as well. For example, we compare one person or thing to or with another, not against or versus another; to and with both have one syllable fewer than against and versus. Fewer syllables count; life is short.

• The investigators will analyze the new data and compare them against computer models in an effort to link unequivocally the Arctic's perturbed chemistry to its ozone loss.

The investigators will analyze the new data and compare them with computer models in an effort to link unequivocally the Arctic's perturbed chemistry to its ozone loss.

Likewise, the correct expression is center on, not center around.

• Much of their behavior centers around doing things to please others in an attempt to earn approval.

Much of their behavior centers on doing things to please others in an attempt to earn approval.

Irregardless, like irregardless of the fact that, is as wordy as it is incorrect.

• Marriage proposals from strangers followed her Internet moment, irregardless of the fact that she's a mother of two and married.

Marriage proposals from strangers followed her Internet moment, even though she's a mother of two and married.

Instead of the reason is because, say the reason is or simply because, and you are both concise and correct.

• A common reason people join groups is because they work near one another.

A common reason people join groups is they work near one another.

I grumble about grammar because mistakes in it invariably vitiate one's style of writing and, like wordiness, often arrest the reader's flow of thought.

A good writing style starts with polish, but it does not stop with it. Style must also have presence and personality. Along with polish, then, a writing style would be a good deal improved by panache, which is as creative as polish is corrective. Panache means writing with variety as well as with balance, writing heedful of sound as well as of sense, and writing interestingly as well as enthusiastically. All this is panache, and it is far more than this.

With a dollop of polish and a dash of panache our words will approach perfection.