Making Scientific, Technical, and Business Writing More Concise



One goal of all writing, but especially of scientific, business, and technical writing, is to be more succinct and concise. Too often, this kind of writing overflows with too many words, superfluous words, or words that simply aren't concise and precise. One way that we can make our writing more "efficient" is to use what's known as the "real" verb. That is, rather than change a verb into a noun, we actually keep the verb a verb. George Orwell, in his famous essay, “Politics and the English Language” , calls the tendency to change verbs into nouns “operators or verbal false limbs.” What happens in this case is that writers take a perfectly good verb and change it into a noun. Doing this not only adds unnecessary words to the sentence, but it lessens the impact of the writing.

Some of our favorite examples are “dependent upon” instead of “depends on”; “take into consideration” rather than “consider”; and “have an effect on” rather than “affect.” Unlike pretentious diction, which we discussed in our February newsletter (for copies of past newsletter, click here), not using the real verb is problematic because it increases the number of words in a sentence, thereby making the reader work harder to understand the text; makes writing less emphatic because the verb, which indicates the action of the sentence, is de-emphasized; and finally, creates imprecision in the document. One way to figure out if you’re guilty of changing verbs into nouns is to see if the sentence contains two verbs; if it does, you’ve probably changed the verb into a noun (the underlined below show the verbs).

Original: The rate of return is dependent upon the number of sales.

Rewrite: The rate of return depends on the number of sales.

Original: The rate of return has an effect upon the number of sales.

Rewrite: The rate of return affects the number of sales.