SSSConcise writers don’t necessarily write short sentences; they write sentences without needless words. Consider this inconcise, 52-word sample from an abstract:
In public washrooms, men who had flushed a urinal were randomly assigned to have or not have another man in the room waiting by the wash basins. It was found that men would more likely engage in hand washing behavior when another man was present than when another man was absent.
Washing is behavior, so cut “behavior”; a sink is much like a “wash basin,” so use “sink”; “men who had flushed a urinal” can be cut to “men who had urinated,” so use the latter; “randomly assigned” most often is implied by “experiment,” so use “experiment”; “it was found that” can be cut if the sentences are combined, so combine; and the context is a men’s washroom, so you could shorten “another man” to “another.”
SSSSome of thes revisions above occurred to me automatically but the revision, below, required my editing the sentence a dozen times. Only after a good night’s sleep, did I revise again and deem these 30 words to preserve the original sentence’s meaning:
In an experiment on hygiene in public washrooms, men who had urinated more likely washed their hands when a man stood by the sinks than when the man was absent.
SSSBut is this the best I could do? A few days later, I sought my wife’s feedback. She judged “absent” a poor word choice because it suggests that the participant expected a man to be present. She rightly asserted that clarity trumps concision and recommended “not present” and approved these 32 words:
In an experiment on hygiene in public washrooms, a male participant more likely washed his hands after urinating when a man stood by the sinks than when a man was not present.
Writng concisely can require much thought and time!
SSSSo, what else can you do to write concisely ? The WWW offers much advice. Lists of wordy texts and their shorter equivalents are available and worth reviewing. More systematic is identifying classes of wordiness, providing examples, and showing concise revisions. This is well done at the website of Purdue University’s Online Writing Laboratory and is also worth reviewing.
sssOne form of inconcison involves using nominalizations. Here let’s focus one kind of nominalization: presenting an action in a noun rather than in a verb. In the table below, I have italicized verbs and boldfaced nominalizations. Read each row slowly. Are the actions more forceful and the sentences shorter when the actions appear as verbs?
|Action Presented in Verbs||Action Presented in Nominaliztion|
|Jill kissed Jack.||Jill gave a kiss to Jack.|
|Jill aided Jack.||Jill offered aid to Jack|
|I greatly love you.||I have great love for you. (Yes, a verb and its nominalization can be spelled identicaly.)|
|Jill sings beautifully||Jill’s singing is beautiful.|
|Fear extinction depends on the infralimbic prefrontal cortex.||Fear extinction has a dependency on the infralimbic prefrontal cortex.|
|The interaction between seat belt use and drivers’ age implies . . . .||The interaction between seat belt use and drivers’ age has implications . . .|
|The current study replicated Baron and Journey’s study (1989).||The current study was a replication of Baron and Journey’s study (1989).|
So, you have been advised to cut wordiness and review examples of wordiness and concision. Most valuable is revising many wordy texts. Such texts and model answers are in the two sets below.
I constructed the sets with PowerPoint so you will need PowerPoint on your computer. When you open a set a security warning will appear. Click the “Enable Button” and then run the set as a slide show.
The initial slides describe how you can use the set. Some texts might require a dozen revisions, over a few weeks, before you judge them ready for your readers. So store a unit so you can later revisit and revise texts. Please start with Wordy 1.