My thoughts on writing tips found online and in published works (with some random thoughts thrown into the mix).

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Condensing the Message

Tips from Proofreading: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "Use strong verbs. More than any other part of speech, verbs carry the strength of your message."
    • This is much like the difference between active and passive voice. You have to choose the verbs that will have the most impact on your readers. This usually means finding the voice that shows the most expression. Sometimes that means using an emotion-packed word, a verb that stirs up controversy, or something at the extreme end of the spectrum. If you pick words that pack a punch, they will catch the reader's attention and keep their interest.
  • "Reduce clauses to phrases and phrases to words. Our language gives us an endless variety of ways to say the same thing. Concise writing never uses a clause when a phrase will do, or a phrase when a single word can get the same message across."
    • Have you ever read a paper or novel where the author seems to just go on and on about the same thing? Well, this is kind of about avoiding that. You want to get your message out without dragging the reader across a gravel road (or putting them through mental anguish). If you keep the writing short and concise, your reader will appreciate it and keep reading instead of giving up in frustration.
  • "Turn noun phrases into verbs. 'Nominalizations' are noun phrases less effective writers use in place of strong verbs. Use the verb form instead!"
    • For example, take the sentence "The team will ask questions to the department head." The sentence could be significantly shortened by turning it into "The team will question the department head." This also makes the sentence more pleasant to read as it flows better and is more direct. Whenever possible, make your sentences sound confident and reduce the distance between the text and the reader.
  • "Avoid overusing sentence 'warm-ups.' When we're speaking aloud, we often use sentence 'warm-ups' that provide just the instant we need to figure out what we want to say. But we can weed most of these out of our written language. The two most commonly used warm-ups, also called 'expletives' begin with the words it and there. Almost invariably, weeding out the warm-ups results in a better sentence."
    • There is a big difference between spoken language and the written word. In order to improve on your writing, you have to learn the differences between the two. One of the biggest is introduction words. If it buys you time in real life, it just wastes time on paper. This goes along with the second tip: reduce, reduce, reduce!
  • "Reduce unnecessary words and phrases. If you want your report read, reduce the number of words in it! The three keys mentioned so far will all help you reduce unnecessary words. See what else you can eliminate or rephrase."
    • After you have incorporated all of the previous tips into your writing, this will help you with editing it down. Go back over your work again and see if there are any other places that could be shortened. Be careful not to damage the piece by taking out important information. While length is a priority, clarity is even higher on the list.

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