Concise Writing: The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

By Mary

When writing, it is important to keep your messages concise. What does concise mean? To the point. As a reader, I don’t need to have to wade through a four line sentence in order to figure out what you mean.

Concise writing is respectful of the reader’s time. If you want me to meet you for lunch, send me an e-mail that says, “Mary, would you like to meet me for lunch today at noon?

Do not send me an e-mail that says, “Mary, I am getting hungry. I was wondering if you were hungry too. When people are hungry, that is a sign that they need to eat. Since we might both be hungry, I was perhaps wondering if you might care to join me for a meal in the near future?

The first example tells me exactly what the writer wants, and I don’t have to request further clarification to answer the request.

The second example is long and hard to follow. I refer to this as a blah, blah, blah message. The writer doesn’t just come out and ask the question. Additionally, the writer doesn’t make his or her inquiry clearly. Assuming that I bother to read this entire message, I will have to seek further clarification in order to answer.

When you write an e-mail request, stop and read it before you press send. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my request direct and to the point?
  • Are there extra words in the request?
  • Is there a more direct way to phrase the request?
  • Is the reader likely to be annoyed before getting to the heart of the request?
  • Can the reader answer the question without having to request clarification?
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11 Responses to “Concise Writing: The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth”

  • Ben Yoskovitz

    Concise is key, just don’t come off as rude.

    Email is a tricky beast, things can be misinterpreted very easily because there’s no tone or emotion that translates well via email.

  • Amy W.

    Many thanks for these columns about *clean* writing. I’ve referred my staff to this blog and hope they’re reading it all!

  • suroor

    hi

  • PreciseEdit

    We follow this rule religiously. If something can be written more concisely and directly without losing content, do so. A concise writer will inspire confidence, make his point, and demonstrate respect for the reader.

    This also fits well with another rule we follow: Remove redundancy. For example, “Previous innovations made by past thinkers were fundamental to the founding of our society” can become “Our society is built upon innovation” or “Innovation created our society.”

  • Laddie

    My friends and other colleagues find it rude whenever I write a letter so concise and straight to the point. You said, it is a sign you respect other people’s time. They tend to think that I feel close to the person I am writing to to say exactly what I want to say. I obviously want to put my point out right away but they say i have to elaborate it. Even my boss thinks so.
    What do you think?

  • PreciseEdit

    Laddie,

    Concise writing doesn’t create a rude or intimate tone. Content does. Consider verbs that represent actions, and consider the connotations of your nouns.

    This is topic that we have addressed throughout our training manual and which, I suspect, will often be raised in our new writing forums.

  • Dawit

    Absluotely, great if you can write concise letter. Becuase people would prefer to read the point instead of confused and say the same issue. Therefore, improving such skill is a very good habit. Ofcourse sometimes is very shame wrting concise is too short to someone you respect so it is better you elaborte it.

  • singgih

    Thanks

  • lawyerjourno

    Yes, everybody has his or her own style of writing and writing concise email is personal habit one should inculcate this on his or her own. Let it differ to personal choice. I like to write lengthy emails…..for they convey my message rightly. I do not know whether other people like them or not but I like them very much.

  • Harsh Agrawal

    Mary, would you like to meet me for lunch today at noon?” 😉

    Short and simple is always sweet and appreciated.

  • Carol

    Got a chuckle from #9’s comments. Nickname is lawyerjourno, which says it all–concisely.

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