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Conciseness
An extremely significant and
educational presentation about
an important essential of good
and effective technical writing
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Contents

Brevity versus conciseness 3


Conciseness, clarity, and precision 4
Conciseness in technical writing 5
Bad practice 6
Circumlocution 6
Tautology 6
Redundant pairs and categories 7
Filler phrases 8
Big words 8
Needless words 9
Good practice 10
Sentence construction 10
Clarified subjects 10
Active verbs 10
Strong verbs 11
Bulleted lists 12
Conclusion 13
References 16

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Brevity versus conciseness
Brevity (n) the state of being brief in duration

Concise (n) expressing much in a few words; brief but comprehensive;


succinct; terse

Brevity is not the same as conciseness. Writing concisely means eliminating


whatever adds nothing to the meaning of the text. It does not waste words but
includes only the concrete and specific details that make meaning clear.

Simply minimizing the number of words to achieve brevity, however, does


not necessarily result in conciseness. It may destroy the emphasis and perhaps
even the meaning of a paragraph. To write concisely requires time and effort –
it’s much easier to be wordy. Wordiness reveals that you have failed to find
the exact words to convey an idea. Rather than write short sentences and omit
detail, you should make every word tell.

Do not omit necessary words but do omit needless words.

Compare the following:

Wordy

“Due to the fact that effective technical writing needs to be clear and concise at all times and
in all contexts, text must be labored over diligently by technical writers so that they achieve
the desired result that students want.”

Concise

“Technical writers should always write clearly and concisely for students.”

Wordy

“The duty of an editor is to check and edit each script for style, spelling, punctuation and
grammar and so on, before returning it to the relevant writer.”

More concise

“Editors edit and return all scripts.”

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Conciseness, clarity, and precision
Conciseness means using the fewest possible words to make a given point.

Wordy

“As you carefully read what you have written to improve your wording and catch small
errors, the thing to do before you do anything else is to try to see any particular types of bad
habit that may often recur in your work.”

More concise

“Before you edit, look out for any recurring faults you may have.”

Clarity means making your point with little possibility of ambiguity or


misinterpretation.

Ambiguous

“The function of the technical writer is to produce texts so that that they are fully
understood.” Which is to be understood – the writers or the texts?

Clear

Technical writers should produce understandable texts.

Precision means using the exact word rather than a less meaningful, generic
word or phrase.

Imprecise

“SmartForce writers produce electronic documents describing lessons that will be integrated
into courses.”

Precise

“SmartForce writers produce development scripts for interactive educational software.”

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Conciseness in technical writing

Conciseness is vital in technical writing. Effective text provides students with


all the necessary information without padding. Repetition of unimportant
points should be avoided (although reiteration of important points is
sometimes necessary).

Concise development scripts

• provide clear learning points


• avoid ambiguity
• give a snappier, more professsional pace
• provide manageable information
• keep learning objects to a reasonable size
• are less time-consuming for the student

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Bad practice
Wordiness is the biggest obstacle to clear writing. Wordiness comprises
redundant and trite expressions as well as unnecessary repetition. In almost
everything we read and hear, there is complexity instead of simplicity, and
obscurity instead of clarity. We should avoid bad habits such as

• circumlocution
• tautology
• redundant pairs and categories
• filler phrases
• big words
• needless words

Circumlocution

Circumlocution, as the word implies, is “talking around” something, a


rhetorical device that has no place in technical writing.

For example, the following is typical of talking around the point:

Because our current practices are not the way we should currently be doing things, therefore
there is an absolutely essential imperative to change the way we are currently doing things.

In plain English:

We need to change our current practices

Tautology

Tautology is the needless repetition of the same idea in different words For
example, in the phrase “parents who have children”, “who have children” is
redundant because its meaning has already been conveyed by “parents”. To
describe events as “true facts” is tautological because if the “facts” are not
true, they are not “facts”.

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Redundant pairs and categories

Many pairs of words imply each other. “Finish” implies “complete”, so in the
phrase “completely finish”, “completely” is redundant in most cases.

Common redundant pairs include

New innovations Various differences

One and the same Each individual

Past experience Basic fundamentals

Revert back Future plans

Repeat again End result

Summarize briefly Final outcome

Essentially important Contributing factor

A related expression that’s not as redundant as it is illogical is “very unique”.


Because it means “one of a kind”, adding modifiers of degree (very, so,
especially, extremely) makes no sense. Either something is “one of a kind” or it
is not – it cannot be modified.

Specific words imply their general categories, so you don’t have to state both.
In the phrase “four in number”, the general category term “in number” is
implied in the specific word “four”. In each of the following phrases, the
general category term may be cut, leaving just the specific descriptive word:

large in size of cheap quality

red in color honest in character

heavy in weight unusual in nature

period in time extreme in degree

round in shape of a strange type

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Be aware of redundancy in modern acronyms and terminology.

CPU units Dot.com (dot-com [adj])


ATM machine ARP protocol
AIDS Syndrome ROM memory
HIV virus LAN network
C: drive MS-DOS operating system

Filler phrases

Filler phrases are extra words that seem to modify the meaning of a noun but
don’t actually add to the meaning of the sentence. For example,
“Any particular type of desk is fine” is more concise as “Any desk is fine”.

Other common examples of filler words and phrases include

Some kind of It is/there is/there are


By virtue of the fact that Basically
As a matter of fact Considerable amount of
There is a chance that To all intents and purposes

You should avoid the expression “the fact that”.

Big words

Don’t use big, important-sounding words instead of short, simple ones.


Write to express, not to impress.

For example, “Pulchritude appears in the epidermis only” is better known as “Beauty is only
skin deep”. Here are some more:

“On the alternate side of the enclosure the herbage is always more verdant”

“Infringement of judicial principles does not compensate the malefactor”

“Be chary in using the ferule and impair the progeny”

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In plain English:

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”

“Crime doesn’t pay”

“Spare the rod and spoil the child”

Big Small is better


Terminate End
Utilize Use
Substantiate Prove
Optimum Best
Incombustible Fireproof
Materialize Happen
Multiplicity Many
Methodology Method
Remunerate Pay
Sesquipedalian A long word (yes it is, and that’s what it means)

Needless words

Very, quite
• Provide emphasis, but add no precision and little meaning
“The course was quite interesting and very well-written” works better as
“The course was interesting and well-written”

Will (as in future tense)


• Avoid when writing instructions: either the result happens or it
doesn’t.
“When you click the File menu, a list of options will appear”
Revise “will appear” to “appears”.

Essentially, simply
• Add nothing to the meaning of a sentence
The sentence “It is essentially an easy task” is a more direct statement if
“essentially” is deleted.

It is interesting to note that...


• Pointless phrase
Almost every sentence that begins with these words already contains six
pointless words.

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Good practice

Sentence construction

Verbs in a sentence can be in the active or passive voice:

• “Writers write courses” (a subject does something - active verb)


• “Courses are reviewed by editors” (something is done to a subject –
passive verb)

In both types, the subject and verb are the most important elements, so
clarifying the subject, making the verb more vigorous and changing passive
voice to active voice improves the sentence. Compare these examples:

“There are courses that are written and reviewed in SmartForce by writers
and editors and they are popular.”

“SmartForce writers and editors produce popular courses.”

Clarified subjects

“It” and “There is/are” are “false subjects” (also known as “expletive
constructions”) that mask the true subject. For example:

• “It is possible to update the program”


• “There is no toner in the printer”
• “There are two users sharing this machine”

“It is” “There is” and “There are” are not true subjects in these examples so
eliminate the false subjects for clarity and conciseness:

• “You can update the program”


• “The printer lacks toner”
• “Two users share this machine”

Note: A recurring phrase in technical writing “It is recommended that...”


works better as “You should...”

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Active verbs

If possible, replace passive verbs with active because sentences in the active
voice are generally clearer and more direct than those in active voice.

Passive (and wordy)


• “The Internet is unfortunately being exploited by greedy opportunists.”
• “Significant savings were realized through the installation of an innovative up-to-
date telecommunications system.”

Active (and concise)


• “Unfortunately, opportunists exploit the Internet.”
• “Installing a new telecommunications system cut costs.”

Strong verbs

Strong verbs command attention – agree, receive, analyze, attempt. Words such
as am, are, has, was, are useful but weak.

Wordiness results when a strong verb is turned into a noun and a requisite
weak verb is added.

For example, “The scientist made an analysis of the data” works better as
“The scientist analyzed the data”

Weak Strong
Is of the opinion Believes
Are in agreement Agree
Are in receipt of Receive
Is in response Responds
Makes an attempt Attempts

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For stronger sentences, always use the positive, rather than the negative,
form. The positive form is more direct and concise.

Negative Positive
Not honest Dishonest
Not important Trifling
Did not remember Forgot
Did not pay attention to Ignored
Does not have much confidence in Distrusts
Does not allow Prevents
Does not allow access Excludes
Has not got Lacks

Bulleted lists

A wordy sentence can be improved by changing it to a bulleted list – for


example, compare the following:

“Permissions are granted based on various conditions such as the user’s properties as
the profile of the remote access policy.” is better as

“Permissions are granted based on the


• user’s properties
• profile of the remote access policy”

But you must use the list correctly.

Wrong
“The computer is made up of several components. These include:
• The central processing unit.
• The monitor.
• The keyboard.”

Right
“Computer components include the
• CPU
• monitor
• keyboard”

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Conclusion
Business and technical writing is padded with all sorts of empty phrases.
Redundancies, circumlocutions, and empty bureaucratic phrases are so
ingrained in speech and writing that most writers need to concentrate just to
notice them.

Wordiness also happens when writers struggle to clarify difficult concepts.


But wordiness can be eliminated by using conciseness strategies. The
following list contains many familiar “clutter words” (courtesy of The RSCC
Online Writing Lab. - see third reference below). Becoming aware of and
banishing these empty phrases is one of the keys to concise writing.

Clutter Use
A great number of times often, frequently
a greater number of more
a little less than almost
a small number of few
a large number of many
a period of several weeks several weeks
a sufficient number of enough
absolute guarantee guarantee
absolutely essential essential
adding together adding
advance planning planning
advance reservations reservations
any and all any
as a general rule as a rule
at regular intervals of time regularly
at some future date sometime, later
at 12 noon at noon
at 12 midnight at midnight
at the conclusion of after
at a meeting held here at a meeting here
balance against one another balance
basic fundamentals fundamentals
called attention to the fact reminded
came to a stop stopped
cancel out cancel
cannot be possible cannot be
close proximity close
close scrutiny scrutiny

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commute back and forth commute
completely decapitated decapitated
consensus of opinion consensus
continue on continue
current status status
current trend trend
despite the fact that although
detailed information details
different kinds kinds
due to the fact that because
during the time that then, while, as
end result result
ended his talk concluded
entered a bit of bid
entire monopoly monopoly
equally as well equally
established precedent precedent
estimated at about estimated at
estimated roughly at estimated at
expressed the belief said
few in number few
filled to capacity filled
final outcome outcome
finally ended ended
first and foremost first
first priority priority
for a period of 10 days for 10 days
for a short space of time for a short time
for the purpose of advancing to advance
future plans plans
general conclusion conclusion
general public public
goals and objectives goals
guest speaker speaker
hidden pitfall pitfall
honest truth truth
hot water heater water heater
if that were the case if so
in addition to and, besides, also
in case of of, concerning
in excess of more

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in the absence of without
in the near future soon
in the not too distant future eventually
in the event that if
in view of the fact that considering
introduced a new introduced
introduced for the first time introduced
invited guests guests
is of the opinion that believes
is opposed to opposes
joined together joined
lift up lift
major portion of most of
merged together merged
midway between between
new innovation innovation
off of off
official business business
on account of because
on behalf of for
one and the same the same
on two different occasions twice
once in a great while seldom, rarely
past experience experience
past history history
personal opinion opinion
placed its seal of approval on approved
point in time time
prior to before
probed into probed
refer back to refer to
regular weekly meeting meeting
repeat again repeat
rise up rise
since the time when since
tendered his resignation resigned
this particular instance this instance
there is no doubt that doubtless
true facts facts
total operating costs operating costs
unsolved problem problem

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went on to say continued, added
when and if if
whether or not whether
with the exception of except
wrote away for wrote for
you may or may not know you may know

References

Guide to Grammar and Writing -


http://cctc.commnet.edu/grammar/concise.htm
The Little, Brown Handbook (pp. 473 – 480)
The Purdue University Writing Lab – http://owl.english.purdue.edu
William Strunk, Jr. The Elements of Style - http://www.bartleby.com/141/

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