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5 Ways to Say More in Fewer Words

Table of Contents

If time is money, when it comes to business, wasted words are wasted dollars. When your team’s writing
is long-winded, roundabout, heavy with jargon, and full of fat, useless phrases, they’re eating into
someone’s profit—probably that of your business.

Conciseness: saying more in fewer words is a virtue of all good writing. Conciseness makes documents
easier to read and makes them more persuasive and professional. When writing is concise, readers will
consider you competent, considerate, and efficient; in other words, worth doing business with.

Here are five tricks that good writers understand for saying more in fewer words:

1) Give your readers only what they need. As always, look at every document from your readers’ point of
view and clarify the document’s purpose before beginning to write: what do your readers need to know?
What information is relevant, and what’s not, to achieving your document’s purpose? Is that interesting
quote from 18th century economist Adam Smith relevant? Is that chart you tracked down on the Bureau
of Labor’s website important? Are those five-year-old statistics useful?
You may wish to include an intriguing nugget of information to show off your research skills, but if that
information doesn’t serve the readers’ purposes, you’ve simply wasted their time. Be ruthless. Cut what
doesn’t belong.

2) Avoid jargon and other pompous phrasing. Jargon—trendy, “in-crowd” business language—is often not just wordy, but imprecise and unclear. Pompous writing, which uses fancy words and long phrases where
plain and simple wording will do, can annoy and confuse your reader.

Wordy jargon: “At this juncture, we foresee the likely possibility of Acme Anvil Inc. experiencing
an equity retreat during the near-future reporting period.”
Concise: “We now expect Acme Anvil Inc. to lose money in the fourth quarter.”
Wordy jargon: “Our new CEO brings to the table a number of best-practice approaches, including
the ability to think outside the box, to assist us in achieving our mission-critical goals.”
Concise: “Our new CEO’s expertise and imagination should help us achieve our goals.”
Pompous wording: “She engages in the utilization of cutting-edge accounting techniques.”
Concise: “She uses the newest accounting techniques.”

Instead of being plain and direct, jargon and pompous wording force your readers to waste time trying to
decipher your meaning. Such writing also comes across as evasive and sometimes even dishonest—as if you’re trying to hide the truth. “Experience an equity retreat,” for example, is the weasel’s way of saying,
“lose money.”

3) Use strong verbs. The verb is the muscle of the sentence. You don’t want it to be flabby. Often you can replace long phrases with single, straightforward, precise verbs. Here are some ways verbs can go wrong, followed by concise corrections:

Wordy noun-based phrases Concise Verbs
“we made a decision” “we decided”
“I gave consideration to” “I considered”
“they came to an agreement” “they agreed”
“she came to the conclusion” “she concluded”

Wordy use of modifying phrases

“she walked in displaying great confidence”
“the CEO spoke under his breath”
“the company changed its hiring  policies in a major way”

Wordy passive-voice verbs

“the profits were expected by the CEO to be higher”
“the accident was caused by lightning”
“great service is expected by our customers”

Concise Verbs
“we decided”
“I considered”
“they agreed”
“she concluded”

Concise Verbs

“she strode in” or “she marched in”
“the CEO whispered” or “muttered”
“the company transformed its hiring policies”

Concise active-voice verbs:

“the CEO expected higher profits”
“lightning caused the accident”
“our customers expect great service”

4) Avoid most intensifiers and de-intensifiers. Intensifiers are words like “very,” “really,” “relatively,”
“significantly,” and “extremely.” De-intensifiers are words like “rather,” “somewhat,” “quite,” “kind of,”
and “sort of.”

Intensifiers and de-intensifiers rarely help a sentence. Take the intensifiers and de-intensifiers
(underlined) out of the following sentence, and it loses none of its effect: “It is extremely urgent that we
really try to deal with the somewhat challenging issues that are causing problems for our rather
overextended factory work force.”

Writers who overuse intensifiers come across as trying to pump up weak ideas—as if they lack confidence
in the ideas themselves. De-intensifiers, on the other hand, make the writer seem wishy-washy: a
“somewhat difficult fourth quarter” is usually just a “difficult fourth quarter” that the writer doesn’t want
to think about too hard.

Often, intensifiers-plus-modifiers can be replaced by single words:

Wordy: “We have a very large problem.”
Concise: “We have a huge problem.” or “We have a substantial problem.”
Wordy: “It is really important that you deal with this.”
Concise: “You must deal with this.”

5) Put statements in positive form. Sentences centered on words like “not” and “never” are often wordy
and difficult to follow, especially when they also contain other negatives, such as “unexpected” and
“unusual,” or implied negatives like “forgotten” and “scarce.”

 Wordy negative phrasing: “It is not unusual for our sales numbers to reflect a spring downturn.”
Concise positive phrasing: “Our sales numbers often reflect a spring downturn.” (Or, with a
stronger verb, “Our sales often drop in the spring.”)

 Wordy negative phrasing: “We never see the CEO when she is not dressed casually.”
Concise positive phrasing: “We always see the CEO dressed casually.” (Or “The CEO always
dresses casually.”)

 Wordy negative phrasing: “Our customers are not likely to forget that we gave them refunds.”
 Concise positive phrasing: “Our customers will remember that we gave them refunds.”
 Wordy negative phrasing: “We should not fail to consider purchasing domestic steel, which is not
at all hard to find.”
Concise positive phrasing: “We should consider purchasing domestic steel, which is abundant.”

Saying more with fewer words is a great way to ensure that your documents are easy to read and

For additional copies of this whitepaper, please contact us at info@hurleywrite.com.

5 Ways to Say More in Fewer Words

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Prefer to chat? Call us at 877-249-7483
Prefer to chat? Call us at 877-249-7483

(503 Reviews)