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conciseness

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conciseness

Alan Alda as Hawkeye in "The Gun" (M*A*S*H, 1975)

Definition:

A characteristic of a speech or prose composition in which a great deal is conveyed in just a few words.

Concise writing is generally free of repetition and needless details. Contrast with circumlocution and verbosity.

See also:

Etymology:

From the Latin, "to cut up"

Observations:

  • "Vigorous writing is concise. . . . This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."
    (William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White, The Elements of Style. Macmillan, 1979)


  • "If your goal is to achieve precision and concision, begin by pruning the big limbs. You can shake out the dead leaves later.

    • Cut any passage that does not support your focus.
    • Cut the weakest quotations, anecdotes, and scenes to give greater power to the strongest.
    • Cut any passage you have written to satisfy a tough teacher or editor rather than the common reader.
    • Don't invite others to cut. You know the work better. Mark optional trims. Then decide whether they should become actual cuts.
    Always leave time for revision, but if pressed, shoot for a draft and a half. That means cutting phrases, words, even syllables in a hurry."
    (Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools. Little, Brown, 2006)


  • "Don't use any extra words. A sentence is like a machine; it has a job to do. An extra word in a sentence is like a sock in a machine."
    (Annie Dillard, "Notes for Young Writers." In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction, ed. by Lee Gutkind. W.W. Norton, 2005)


  • "He that uses many words for explaining any subject, doth, like the cuttlefish, hide himself for the most part in his own ink."
    (John Ray, 1692)


  • Mark Twain on the "Best Way" of Writing English
    "I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English--it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them--then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice."
    (Mark Twain, Letter to D. W. Bowser, March 1880)


  • Isaac Babel and Elie Wiesel on "Elimination"
    "It's all this elimination that makes for power of language and style. . . .

    "I go over each sentence, time and again. I start by cutting all the words it can do without. You have to keep your eye on the job because words are very sly; the rubbishy ones go into hiding and you have to dig them out--repetitions, synonyms, things that simply don't mean anything."
    (Isaac Babel, quoted by Konstantin Paustovsky in "Isaac Babel Talks About Writing." The Nation, March 31, 1969)


    "Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain. There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages, which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred pages are there. Only you don’t see them."
    (Elie Wiesel, Elie Wiesel: Conversations, edited by Robert Franciosi. University Press of Mississippi, 2002)


  • The Lighter Side of Conciseness
    Sgt. Seymour Skinner: You know, where I come from, there's no better way to get acquainted than by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance together. Why don't you lead us, son?
    Bart Simpson: Hey, America, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind, America.
    Sgt. Seymour Skinner: Well, that's very concise. But it's an insult to everything I suffered for. Now take a seat, junior, and listen to someone who gave their youth in service to their country.
    ("The Principal and the Pauper," The Simpsons, 1997)
Also Known As: concision, directness

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