The goal of editing for concision is to ensure that the text reflects the writer’s intended meaning in the simplest way possible.
Often, sentences will contain weak or unnecessary words that don’t contribute to the meaning, and removing or replacing these words enhances the clarity of the writing.
Merriam-Webster defines concise as:
It is important to bear this definition in mind. While brevity is key, the focus is removing superfluity rather than simply reducing the word count (although this can sometimes be part of an editing brief). Leaving the text with fewer words does not necessarily mean you’ve successfully created a concise piece of writing.
The goal is to edit for concision without changing the text’s meaning or altering the author’s style. This microlearning will look at ways to help achieve this aim.
Launch the microlearning module below to learn more about writing concisely and to test your knowledge using our interactive quiz.
“Wordiness,” or using several words when one (or none) will do, can take several forms. Let’s have a look at each of them.
For a sentence to be concise, every word needs to perform its own particular function.
If a word doesn’t serve a purpose, or if other words make that word redundant, you can remove it.
“Expand” already implies that the company’s dominance will go beyond what it currently is. Therefore, “further” is unnecessary (unless you are comparing the expansion to previous growth).
And another example:
The phrase “contributing to” is unnecessary here, as the writer already established that Dr. Johnson has contributed to the effort by stating that they have “played a pivotal role.”
Here are some examples of other common replacements:
due to the fact that —> because
in spite of the fact that —> although
aim to try to —> aim to/try to
can help to assist —> can help/can assist
Writers can also overuse transition words, sometimes to increase their word count and sometimes in the mistaken belief that they are essential for linking every sentence. Words such as “indeed,” “furthermore,” “however,” “in addition,” and “conversely” are typical offenders.
This is not to say that all transition words should be cut out of a text; they can be useful in directing the flow and tone when used correctly. But an editor must consider whether a transition word adds value or simply adds content. If a word doesn’t serve a definite purpose, it is often best to cut it.
Removing redundant words would come under Proofed’s editing service, unless the additional words made the meaning of the sentence unclear or awkward (in which case it would be a part of our proofreading service).
Vague Words and Phrases
Sometimes, a writer will use several words to express a concept when there is, in fact, a much simpler alternative.
They might also use a noun phrase to describe something when a verb would be a more direct solution:
Note: Do not prioritize concision over inclusivity. For example, should the writer of the above sentence prefer to use person-first language (“people who are deaf–blind”) then you would maintain or introduce this preferred phrasing. Also, you would not turn the people with the condition into a noun (i.e., do not say “advocating for the deaf–blind”).
Replacing vague words and phrases would come under Proofed’s editing service, unless the words made the meaning of the sentence unclear or awkward (in which case it would be a part of our proofreading service). Ensuring inclusivity comes under both services.
Nominalization is using a word that was not originally a noun as a noun. It’s not a bad thing in itself but, like the passive voice, can cause problems with concision and clarity when used poorly.
Nouns created through nominalization usually end in -ion, -ment, or -ance.
Editing nominalization would come under Proofed’s editing service, unless the nominalization made the meaning of the sentence unclear or awkward (in which case it would be a part of our proofreading service).
Sometimes you will come across instances where a verb repeats. This can happen when a subject performs two or more instances of the same action.
Here is a basic example:
In the above example, we do not need to repeat the verb “ate,” because the first “ate” can apply to both direct objects.
Here’s a more complex example:
Dealing with repeated verbs would come under Proofed’s proofreading service.
Noun Phrases and Possessives
A noun phrase is a group of words that functions as the subject or object of a sentence.
Sometimes, you can replace a noun phrase with a possessive adjective. Simply put, this means you can change “the whiskers of the cat” to “the cat’s whiskers.”
Here’s an example:
Note: Exactly when you can use a possessive instead of a noun phrase can be more of an art than a science. The Chicago Manual of Style states that if the possessor is of higher status than the thing being possessed, then an apostrophe would be used. So it would be “the boy’s pen,” rather than “the pen of the boy.”
Another time when you might use “the x of the y” construction is when both items are inanimate (“the handle of the umbrella” vs. “the umbrella’s handle”).
However, neither offer a one-size-fits-all approach, as you can have constructions like “the organization’s hierarchy is being reviewed.” Use your instincts.
Adjusting noun phrases and possessives would come under Proofed’s editing service, unless their use made the meaning of the sentence unclear or awkward (in which case it would be a part of our proofreading service)
Modifiers, Adverbs, and Adjectives
Sometimes, writers use the same (or a similar) modifier to describe each item in a list. This can be done for emphasis, usually in an advertising context (“Discover the ultimate power of our new blender: more speed, more precision, more versatility!”), but generally is unnecessary.
Similarly, writers can use vague or unnecessary adverbs or adjectives. When reading a sentence, consider whether the adverb or adjective adds anything useful.
Vague: The company
Writers often add these words to try to emphasize a point, and it might take an outside perspective to evaluate their necessity objectively. While it is important not to change or diminish the writer’s meaning, if you find yourself questioning an adjective or adverb, that can be an indicator that it’s not adding value.
Editing modifiers, adverbs, and adjectives would come under Proofed’s editing service, unless their use made the meaning of the sentence unclear or awkward (in which case it would be a part of our proofreading service).
Combining sentences that contain related information is a good way to encourage concision. The art lies in doing so without removing any necessary information or making the sentence overly long or complicated.
There is no right or wrong length for a sentence. Too many short sentences can seem choppy, while overly long sentences are often difficult to follow. An engaging piece of writing tends to add variety by using sentences of different lengths. This variation in sentence length should enhance the meaning and flow. It should also aid clarity while promoting concision.
Combining sentences is generally an editorial (rather than a proofreading) activity. However, Proofed’s proofreading service would cover blending short, staccato sentences so that the text flows more smoothly.
Things to Avoid
Changing the Intended Meaning
While concision is generally a good thing, editing for concision should not notably change a text’s meaning.
Make sure that revised text contains everything that the original was trying to convey without removing required information, changing the meaning of the text, or altering its emphasis. If you are unsure of the intended meaning, leave a comment.
Let’s look at an example where the edit has changed the writer’s intended meaning.
“The main challenge most APAC countries have is to try to deter China to attack them in the coming years. Except for strong India, the rest of the countries can only envision representing a costly target."
This sentence is unclear and contains vague and unnecessary words.
Over-edited, meaning redacted and changed
“APAC countries must deter Chinese hostilities in the future, aiming to match India's strength.”
This edit removes the idea that deterring China is the “main challenge” for “most” APAC countries. This sentence implies that all (not most) APAC countries “must” deter China but does not state that it is the “main challenge” for them.
The edit also states that APAC countries (other than India) are “aiming to match India’s strength.” The original, however, seemed to be saying that countries other than India can only hope to be costly targets for China, not that they have hope of matching India’s strength.
Any ambiguity should be addressed through a comment that questions the sentence’s meaning and offers suggestions where appropriate.
Suggested edit for concision
“The main challenge for most APAC countries is how to deter any offensive maneuvers made by China. India is strong, but the rest of the countries in the region can only hope to represent such a costly target.”
The meaning behind the “costly target” statement should be questioned in a comment.
When you are making text more concise, you should be careful not to disrupt the flow of information in the text. The aim of concision is to make the text as clear as possible while improving the fluency of the text. As such, changes that make the text sound forced or awkward should be avoided.
Let’s have a look at an example of forced concision.
Some challenges include:
• Management of large datasets and maximizing the value of each imaging event
• Large datasets management and each imaging event’s value maximization
Here, the editor has removed the appearance of two possessive “of” structures. In doing so, however, they have altered the original emphasis and worsened the readability of the sentence.
In this case, the original is fine as it is.
This microlearning has looked at how to cover the writer’s meaning in the most straightforward manner. It has emphasized the importance of being concise without compromising clarity or altering the author’s style or meaning.
Concision involves correcting or addressing wordiness, vague phrases, nominalization, repeated verbs, noun phrases, and possessives. It can also include fine-tuning modifiers and combining sentences. All this should be done without changing the text’s intended meaning or forcing concision in a way that disrupts the natural flow of information.