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  • Writer's pictureScriptorium Team

Less Is More: A Guide to Concise Writing

A person writing in a notebook.

We've all been there—slogging through verbose documents that seem to say in many words what could have been said in a few. Whether it's a procedure, report, or even an email, wordiness can dilute communication and leave readers feeling overwhelmed and disengaged. In a world where dwindling attention spans and information overload are the norm, concise writing has become more crucial than ever.


Before we delve into the specifics, let's define plain language, which is essential to concise writing. Plain language is about using clear, straightforward language that is easy for your audience to understand. That doesn’t make it boring—it simply aims to use words with impact and descriptions with clarity to communicate a subject fully. It avoids unnecessary jargon, complex sentence structures, and convoluted phrasing. Plain language enhances comprehension and engagement, leading to effective communication.


So, how can you achieve conciseness without sacrificing clarity or depth of content? Whether you’re planning a document from scratch or editing an existing document, we've created the ultimate guide to concise writing.


Planning Stage


Planning ahead ensures that every word serves a purpose. If you’re the one writing the document, consider the content, layout, and structure you want to convey, as well as the audience you’re writing for. Think about your main points and how you can present them in a logical and organized manner. 


Gather Ideas

Start by brainstorming your main ideas. Write out the key points and information you want to convey. Consider, again, your audience: what they already know and what they need to know.

For example, here are some points we jotted down when starting this blog post:

  • Using plain language – definition and why it’s important;

  • Planning out what you’re going to say before starting – layout, content, and structure;

  • Using adjectives – when to use them and when they’re not necessary; using strong words;

  • Avoiding jargon unless necessary;

  • Using/highlighting graphics;

  • Being specific;

  • Providing an overview of step by step – gathering ideas, laying out the document, grouping into sections/paragraphs, and refining/editing (before/during and general to specific); and

  • Using sections – before writing/from scratch, after the document has been created/edited.


Create an Outline

Now that you have your main points, draft an outline or structure for your document. Consider the order of your ideas and the length that your final document should be. This will help you organize your thoughts and ensure that your writing flows logically from start to finish.


Remember that when you’re initially writing, it’s OK if your document isn’t as concise as it could be—that’s where the later editing stage comes in.


Group into Sections and Paragraphs

As you write, divide your content into manageable sections or paragraphs. Each section should focus on a single idea or topic. This will help your audience easily grasp the organization and important points of your document.


Once you’ve completed these steps, you can move on to editing. However, remember that writing is never a strictly linear process. You can always return to these planning steps as you continue writing or editing.


Editing Stage


Editing aims to achieve clarity and conciseness. During this stage, you should aim to:

  • Eliminate unnecessary adjectives.

  • Avoid jargon.

  • Use simple language.

  • Add relevant graphics, charts, and/or tables.

  • Avoid repeating information.


Eliminate Unnecessary Adjectives

Adjectives can clog up your sentences, adding unnecessary words in place of fewer, more precise words. You may use adjectives because a noun isn’t as strong as it could be. The table below outlines a few examples of adjectives that could be replaced by stronger nouns:


Original Version

Edited Version

While editing, Hanna encountered some difficult problems and consulted the writer.

While editing, Hanna encountered some complications and consulted the writer.

The very big dog growled angrily at Claire when she slowly walked by.

The Great Dane snarled at Claire when she strolled by.

Avoid Jargon

Be mindful of your audience when using (or eliminating) jargon. For example, if you are editing a technical document that will only be used by knowledgeable staff, you may keep some jargon because explaining things in different terms could cause unnecessary confusion. However, if the document is going to be read by customers who may be unfamiliar with jargon and industry-specific language, you should opt to explain terms and acronyms before using them.


Below are some tips to ensure technical jargon doesn’t take over your document:

  • Include definitions of terms and acronyms at the beginning or end of a document.

  • Spell out acronyms on first mention.

  • Break down concepts.


If you are familiar with the jargon, it can be difficult to place yourself in the shoes of someone who is unfamiliar with those terms. If this is the case, it may be beneficial to allow a different set of eyes to read through your document (e.g., Scriptorium).


Use Simple Language

Use plain, simple language to ensure your final text is accessible to a wider audience. If your reader’s first language isn’t English, they may struggle to understand clichés and unclear, indirect wording. Edit your texts—especially technical ones—to be as simple as possible, so they are understood no matter whose hands they fall into. The table below outlines a few examples of clichés and how they can be replaced:

Original Version

Edited Version

In a nutshell, simple language is preferred to convoluted language.

In short, simple language is preferred to convoluted language.

If the supervisor has his plate full, wait until he is available.

If the sup ervisor is busy, wait until he is available. 

A cluster word web detailing steps for editing text for conciseness.

Add Graphics

Use visuals as an easy way to share information. For many people, it’s easier to process information in the form of a graphic, chart, or table than in text format. Some readers skim documents, especially longer ones, so breaking up the text with easily digestible visuals is a great way to ensure key information is represented. For example, the graphic on the right provides a quick overview of the five points covered in this section. 


Avoid Repeating Information

Although more common in academic writing—when students are trying to meet a word count—writers also fall into the trap of repeating the same information in different ways. Not only is it unnecessary, but it can be a document management nightmare. List information once, which helps a future editor avoid making multiple updates throughout the document. When the information has been communicated, move on to something else!


 

Keeping texts concise can be difficult, especially if you have a lot (or not enough) to say. That’s where Scriptorium comes in. If you find yourself struggling with organizing ideas, keeping it simple, and communicating information clearly, you’ve come to the perfect place. We specialize in taking your information and relaying it in an easy-to-understand way!



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