Online College Courses for Credit

Concise Language

Concise Language

Author: Linda Neuman

To introduce concise language and why it should be used.

To explain how to convert common empty phrases and redundant language into more concise language.


This packet should help a learner seeking to understand English writing styles and who is confused about how to write with concise language. It will explain how to cut empty phrases.

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Introduction: To be or not to be concise

Cut to the chase.

As the cover art for this packet illustrates, some people are masters at concise language.  “Be nice or leave--thank you” gets the message across just as effectively as “Inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated by this establishment.  Patrons who are disturbing others will be asked to leave.  Thank you for your kind cooperation.”

Yet, you will not likely see a sign that says “Be nice or leave” posted at a five-star restaurant.  Why not?

When NOT to be concise

There are appropriate times to be wordy, such as in a formal situation:  the five-star restaurant, greeting visiting heads of state or other renowned persons, certain speeches.  Formal language is traditionally wordier, as the underlying principle behind formal language is to be extremely polite.  Using extra words, knowing they aren’t required to get the point across, is a way of showing the utmost respect for the receiver of this information.   

Some types of academic writing, particularly science writing, traditionally use passive voice (is, am, are, etc.) which is less concise than active voice. You will also see it in hard news stories.  It sounds and feels wordy, compared to active voice, even if the actual letter count is no greater:

A two-tiered test was performed. (passive verb)

We performed a two-tiered test. (active verb)

The deliberate use of passive voice is to strengthen the objectivity of the writing, to keep the reader’s focus on the content and not allow the writer or researcher to be the star of the show by using personal pronouns such as “I” or “we.”

But be careful about this, because nowadays too much use of passive voice even in science writing is discouraged.  It  simply gets boring eventually. 

As a journalist, you might be forced to sacrifice conciseness in the name of objectivity.  Defer to your editor for the proper use of passive voice.

Get rid of unwanted words

Being concise will:

  • perk up your writing with more action
  • make your readers feel engaged rather than lectured to
  • prevent boredom
  • increase clarity

So get in the habit of looking for wordiness, redundancy, repetition and passivity in your writing.  You might read over your work and think “it’s boring right here” or “It seems confusing here” though your work appears error-free.  Chances are you can be more concise, and it’s usually an easy fix. 

Generally, you are not the best judge of how effective your writing is.  Show it to someone else and encourage them to tell you exactly where they lost the plot or became disinterested.  Then see if there are any words you can change or eliminate to improve the writing.

Adding Zest To Your Writing

This slideshow demonstrates how easy it is to improve your writing by leaps and bounds, simply by getting rid of unnecessary words and phrases.

Conclusion: Revise, simplify, shorten

If you love it, let it go.

Writers love words.  It's hard to say goodbye to the words you have so painstakingly put to paper.  But try letting go of some of the redundant and simply unneeded phrasing in your work, then re-read it:  if anything needs to be put back in, you'll know.  You will probably be pleasantly surprised at how much better it sounds. 

Your goals should be:

  • clarity
  • precision
  • simplicity

Anything that is difficult to grasp will turn off your readers.  They may feel confused, or just bored.  So make sure your work is accessible to your target audience. 

Source: Linda Neuman

For more information

Here are some helpful, at-a-glance examples of converting passive voice to active voice:

An enjoyable read on some of the reasons why you might or might not prefer to use passive voice:

Great quick tips on science writing, that actually apply to all types of writing:

Source: Linda Neuman