| Conciseness means brevity and completeness. The entire underlying premise of “Elements of Style” (and the purpose of this section on “conciseness”) is captured in the mantra of Will Strunk's Rule #17: “Omit needless words, omit needless words, omit needless words.”
Here are three practices that can help you write and edit more concisely.
1. Use one word for many:
a. Know definitions:
The letter was written by someone who had not signed his or her name.
The letter was anonymous.
b. Use front modifiers:
He requested a trial by a jury of his peers.
He requested a jury trial.
c. Avoid overlapping subordinate constructions:
A watch is an intricate instrument to measure time, which many people consider the gift that is the most valuable of all.
A watch measures time, which many consider the most valuable gift.
d. Avoid tautology:
He referred to basic and fundamental principles of physics.
He referred to basic principles of physics.
e. Avoid empty subjects:
It is truth which will prevail, he argued.
Truth will prevail, he argued.
f. Don't overdo it:
At each end of the sunken garden, worn marble steps, flanked by large oak trees, lead to the burial ground.
The garden has steps at both ends.
2. Use the active voice:
The ship was overloaded by the stevedores.
Stevedores overloaded the ship.
3. Remember, all sentences are simple sentences, elaborated upon:
From the “Book of Common Prayer”: “Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways, draw near with faith, and take this holy sacrament to your comfort, and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.”
Simple sentence: (You) draw near.
Advice from Elmore Leonard*
I leave you with a passage from one of my favorite writers, Elmore Leonard, who many believe is one of America's best, especially in the crime genre. This is from “Cuba Libre”:
“This evening when Neely [a reporter], leaning on the glass counter, said he'd never bought a lady cigarettes before, Amelia turned to him saying, 'You were waiting for me, weren't you?' giving him her famous smile. Eyes twinkling mischievously, her countenance aglow, would be the way he'd write it, rather than say her smile showed in her eyes and made her seem so, well, alive.”
Good example. Take heed.
*Thanks to Rob Small of Small Newspapers for sharing this example.