Style: The Craft of Skilled Writing

14 Achieving Conciseness

In many of your classes, you are probably used to trying to stretch out your writing to reach that 1,000-word goal for an essay. This is a habit you want to avoid in professional communication because professional audiences—employees, clients, supervisors, and others—prefer writing that is clear and, most importantly, concise. For our purposes, conciseness means using the fewest words possible to achieve the goal of communication.

What is the goal of communication? It is to ensure that your reader understands your intended meaning. Just ask yourself, if you were given the choice between reading a 500 word article and a 250 word article that both communicate the same meaning, which one would you prefer to read?

To be clear, there is nothing grammatically wrong with all the examples we will cover below. However, having perfect grammar doesn’t mean a message is particularly well-written. The issue here is a matter of style—and style is perhaps the most important and most difficult skill professional writers need to master. Using the techniques listed below will keep readers focused on your message and help them interpret what you are saying more easily.

So, how do we make our writing more concise? Here are a few basic steps you can follow.

1. Mass-delete whatever doesn’t belong

The first practical step towards trimming your document is a large-scale purge of whatever doesn’t contribute to the purpose you set out to achieve. Such a purge is important because you don’t want to waste time proof-editing anything that you’re just going to delete anyway. However, this action is probably the most difficult one to take because it involves deleting large swaths of writing that may have taken some time and effort to compose.

Don’t be sentimental about your own writing, especially with professional documents. If the writing is better without it, cut it.

A good rule is that, if the content could potentially sidetrack readers, whose understanding of the topic would be unaffected (at best) or overwhelmed (at worst) by it’s inclusion, those sentences, paragraphs, and even whole sections simply must go. Highlight, delete, and  move forward.

(Save older versions of your work just in case you end up wanting to retrieve any of that later or use tracked changes technology to keep a record of what was deleted.)

2. Delete long lead-ins

The next way to be concise comes from deleting lead-ins. Lead-ins are the groups of words that you wrote to gear up towards your main point. In ordinary speech, we use lead-ins as something like throat-clearing exercises. In writing, however, these are often useless (at best) because they state the obvious. At worst, lead-ins immediately upset the reader by signaling that the rest of the message will contain some time-wasting text.

Take the following the examples:

  • I’m Jerry Mulligan and I’m writing this email to ask you to please consider my application for a co-op position at your firm.
  • You may be interested to know that you can now find the updated form in the company shared drive.
  • To conclude this memo, we recommend a cautious approach to using emojis when texting clients and only after they’ve done so first themselves.

They’re all a bit long-winded, aren’t they? Can you identify the lead-ins?

If not, here are the same examples with the lead-ins highlighted.

  • Im Jerry Mulligan and I’m writing this email to ask you to please consider my application for a co-op position at your firm.
  • You may be interested to know that you can now find the updated form in the company shared drive.
  • To conclude this memo, we recommend a cautious approach to using emojis when texting clients, and only after they’ve done so first themselves.

These lead-ins are unnecessary.

In the first example, the recipient sees the name of the sender before even opening their email. It’s redundant for the sender to introduce themselves by name and say that they wrote this email. Likewise, in the third example, the reader can see that this is the conclusion if it’s the last paragraph, especially if it comes below the heading “Conclusion.”

In each case, the sentence really begins after these lead-in expressions and the reader misses nothing in their absence. Here’s how they look with their lead-ins removed.

  • Please consider my application for a co-op position at your firm.
  • You can now find the updated form in the company shared drive.
  • We recommend a cautious approach to using emojis when texting clients, and only after they’ve done so first themselves.

All three examples are improved by having their lead-in removed. If your writing has similar long lead-ins, delete them.

3. Pare down unnecessarily wordy phrases

We habitually use long stock phrases in our writing and speech because they sound fancy. However, length does not grant respectability. These phrases look ridiculously cumbersome when seen next to their more concise equivalent words and phrases, as you can see in Table #1 below. Unless you have good reason to do otherwise, always replace the wordy phrases with concise ones in your writing.

Table #1: Replace unnecessarily wordy phrases with concise equivalents

Replace These Wordy Phrases with These Concise Equivalents
due to the fact that

not later than July 7

at this present moment in time


by July 7


in any way, shape, or form in any way
pursuant to your request as requested
thanking you in advance thank you
in addition to the above also
in view of the fact that because
are of the opinion that believe
afford an opportunity allow
despite the fact that although
during the time that while
on a weekly basis weekly
at a later date/time later
until such time as until
in the near future soon
fully cognizant of aware of
in the event that if
for the period of for
attached hereto attached
each and every all
in as much as because

Again, the reader misses nothing if you use the words and phrases in the second column instead of those in the first. Also, concise writing is more accessible to readers who are learning English as an additional language.

4. Delete redundant words

Our writing and speech is also filled with redundant words in stock expressions. These prefabricated phrases aren’t so bad when spoken, but are tiresome in their written form. Be on the lookout for the expressions below so that you are in command of your language.

Simply delete the crossed-out words in red if they appear in combination with those in blue:

  • absolutely essential (You can’t get any more essential than essential.)
  • future plans (Are you going to make plans about the past? Plans are always future.)
  • small in size (The context will determine that you mean small in size, quantity, or otherwise.)
  • refer back to (“Back” doesn’t help the verb “refer” in anyway, so cut it.)
  • in order to (Only use “in order” if it helps distinguish an infinitive phrase, which begins with “to,” from the preposition “to” appearing close to it.)
  • each and every or each and every (Alternately, write “all,” as we saw in the Table #1 above.)
  • repeat again (Is this déjà vu?)

5. Delete filler expressions and words

If you audio-record your conversations and make a transcript of just the words themselves, you’ll find an abundance of filler words and expressions that you could remove without harming the meaning of your sentences. A few common ones that appear at the beginning of sentences are “There is,” “There are,” and “It is,” which must be followed by a clause starting with the pronoun “that” or “who.” Consider the following examples:

1.There are many who want to take your place. Many want to take your place.
2. There is nothing you can do about it. You can do nothing about it.
3. It is the software that keeps making the error. The software keeps erring.

Other common filler words include the articles “a,” “an,” and “the,” especially in combination with the preposition of. You can eliminate many instances of “of the” simply by deleting them and flipping the order of the nouns on either side of them.

technology of the future future technology

Obviously, you can’t do this in all cases (e.g., changing “first of the month” to “month first” makes no sense). When proofreading, however, just be on the lookout for instances where you can.

The definite article “the” preceding plural nouns is also an easy target. Try deleting the article to see if the sentence still makes sense without it.

The shareholders unanimously supported the initiative. Shareholders unanimously supported the initiative.

Though the above excess words seem insignificant on their own, they bulk up the total word count unnecessarily when used in combination throughout a large document.

Basically, you can’t really do much to fully eliminate bad ideas because they’re quite common. You can’t do much to eliminate bad ideas because they’re so common.

6. Favour short, plain words and revise jargon or bureaucratic expressions

If you pretend that every letter in each word you write costs money from your own pocket, you would do what readers prefer: use shorter words. The beauty of plain words is that they are more accessible and draw less attention to themselves than big, fancy words, while still getting the point across. This is especially true when you are writing reports, which are often filled with unnecessary jargon. Choosing shorter words is easy because they are often the first that come to mind, so writing in plain language saves you time.

Obviously, you would use jargon for precision when appropriate for your audience’s needs and your own. You would use the word “photosynthesis,” for instance, if (1) you needed to refer to the process by which plants convert solar energy into sugars, and (2) you know your audience knows what the word means. In this case, using the jargon saves word space because it’s the most precise term for a process that otherwise needs several words. Using jargon merely to extend the number of words, however, reduces the quality of your writing and tires your audience unnecessarily.

For business writing, simplifying language is more effective.  Table #2 shows examples of commonly used, complicated, or bureaucratic expressions and their simpler alternative.

Table #2: Plain and simple language

Complicated or Bureaucratic Expression Simpler Alternative
in lieu of


instead of


apparent clear
as per your request as requested
commence begin or start
consolidate combine
ascertain determine
disseminate distribute, send
endeavour try
erroneous wrong
facilitate help or assist
inception start or beginning
leverage use
optimize perfect
terminate end
proximity near
finalize complete
subsequent later
utilize use

Source: Brockway (2015)

The longer words in Table #2 tend to come from the Greek and Latin side of the English language, whereas the shorter words come from the Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) side. When toddlers begin speaking English, they use Anglo-Saxon-derived words because they’re easier to master and, therefore, recognize them as plain, simple words throughout their adult lives.


Brockway, L. (2015, November 3). 24 complex words—and their simpler alternatives. PR Daily.


This chapter was adapted from Effective Professional Communication: A Rhetorical Approach by Rebekah Bennetch, Corey Owen, and Zachary Keesey, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Bennetch, Owen, and Keesey adapted their chapter from Business Communications for Fashion (on by Anna Cappuccitti. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Professional Writing Today Copyright © 2022 by Sam Schechter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book