Writing Concisely (Part 2)

by Ashley Smith & Lori Baxter

In Part 1 of our Writing Concisely series, we talked about the importance of concise writing and how you can show consideration for your reader’s time and ease by cutting your word count. Parts 2-4 will highlight specific ways to make your business writing more concise.

One tip that can be of assistance in keeping  your business writing more concise is to avoid the frequency by which nouns and passive verb tenses are used.

Not only is the above sentence confusing, it ignores the very tip it’s giving. Let’s try again, cutting our word count from 28 to 12:

Keep your business writing concise by limiting nouns and passive verb tenses.

What’s wrong with nouns?

The point is not to avoid all nouns; after all, nouns are an essential building block of writing. However, many of the nouns we use in our business writing are adapted from a verb. The verb version usually requires fewer words and is more engaging than its noun equivalent, but many business writers still choose the wordier noun version, making their writing less interesting and harder to read.

Take a look at the examples below:

The FTA will conduct an investigation on the charges against our company.
The FTA will investigate the charges against our company.

Four individual units are the equivalent of one set.
Four units equal one set.

The manager’s secretary may be of assistance to you.
The manager’s secretary may assist you.

Rebecca’s bathing suit boutique has a tendency to be more profitable in the spring.
Rebecca’s bathing suit boutique tends to profit more in the spring.

The countries have not yet come to an agreement on the border issue.
The countries still do not agree on the border issue.

Not only are the verb versions of these sentences shorter, they are also more interesting than their noun alternatives. Check your writing for noun-heavy sentences and use more active verbs whenever possible.

Here’s another way to infuse more action into your writing and make it more concise.

Take a pass on the passive voice.

Passive verb tenses, also known as the passive voice, occur when the subject of a sentence is the object, not the doer, of the sentence’s action. In other words, whoever or whatever is performing the action is not the grammatical subject of the sentence.

The passive voice has its place in writing and is often necessary; however, a key to good, concise writing is to use it as infrequently as possible.

Below are examples of how you can turn the passive voice into the active voice to keep your writing clear and succinct.

The website was designed by our company.
Our company designed the website.

The stock room is filled each Monday by my assistant.
My assistant fills the stock room on Mondays.

The presentation will be given by the CEO.
The CEO will give the presentation.

A report has been compiled by the administration.
The administration has compiled a report.

 

There are times when the passive voice might be preferred or even necessary, such as when the doer of an action is unknown or unimportant, or needs to remain anonymous. Other times you may simply want the emphasis to be on the action rather than on the actor. However, if none of these situations apply, switch to the active voice.

Edit your work.

If you are in the habit of writing noun-heavy sentences and passive verb tenses, the best way to improve your writing is to edit your work after you’ve finished writing, focusing your attention on catching these specific mistakes. The more you learn to catch errors after you write, the more you will start to remember these tips during your actual writing process.

Tune in next week for Part 3 of our series, when we discuss how to avoid redundancies in your writing.

 

Writing Concisely (Part 1)

Writing Concisely (Part 2): Fewer Nouns and a Lot More Action

Writing Concisely (Part 3): Avoid Redundancies in Your Writing

Writing Concisely (Part 4): Eliminate Wordy Phrases and Modifiers