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Writing concisely: A short guide

A guide to help you get your point across succinctly.

What is concise writing?

Good academic writing often involves being concise. Being concise is about using a few well-chosen words and avoiding those words which are not needed. This is a short guide to writing concisely. 

What does it mean to be concise?


George Orwell suggested that if it was possible to cut a word from a piece writing, then it should be cut. The idea here is that if a word could be removed and the meaning would be unchanged then the word is unnecessary. This is food for thought when we consider our writing and it might, depending on your feelings about writing, seem quite liberating or, alternatively, fill you with dread. 

You might be reading this guide because it has been suggested that you try to be more concise in your writing. You might be reading this because you find it difficult to write in a succinct style. Either way, it can be useful to begin by thinking about why we might want to write concisely. 

There a number of reasons why we might try to be concise.

1. Being concise can help to avoid redundancy. A word might be said to be ‘redundant’ when it doesn’t add much to the meaning; it is not necessary and might even make the writing feel cluttered.

2. This links to a second reason for being concise. For a piece of writing to be concise it will usually require some careful thought and lots of editing. Carefully edited work is, usually, better work (see guide to editing).

3. And, finally, there is the practical matter of meeting word counts. If you have 2000 words for an essay you want to use as many of those words as possible demonstrating your ideas. Concise writing conveys its message in fewer words.

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