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Conciseness in Writing: Definition & Meaning

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  • 0:02 What is Conciseness?
  • 0:55 Poor Conciseness
  • 2:00 How to Revise for…
  • 3:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ben Nickol
This lesson studies the quality of conciseness in polished, professional writing, and offers examples of both proper conciseness and poor conciseness. This lesson explains how to improve conciseness while revising an early draft.

What is Conciseness?

You may at some time have received a corrected paper with the word 'conciseness' written in red ink in the margin. But what is conciseness, and why did your teacher think it was so important?

Conciseness is the extent to which a piece of writing communicates clear information in as few words as possible. One good way to think about conciseness is to think about what, in auto mechanics, is called the 'power-to-weight' ratio. 'Power-to-weight' is the horsepower of the car divided by the curb weight: in other words, the higher the ratio, the more powerful the car. But to achieve a good power-to-weight ratio, you must not only have a powerful engine--but you must also have to limit the weight of the car. Likewise, in writing, it's not enough to have intelligent things to say. You must find a way to 'lighten' what you're saying by using fewer, clearer words.

Poor Conciseness

Let's review a paragraph that needs to work on its conciseness. While it may deliver a great message, the ideas of the paragraph are weighted down by inefficient word use. While listening to the paragraph, ask yourself a few questions; do you find yourself struggling with the language? If you were to rewrite this paragraph, could you make it clearer and more direct? How?

In Ernest Hemingway's novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, the main character is a protagonist who when he's in the book is trying to blow up a bridge. The main character of the novel's name is Robert Jordan. While he's trying to blow up the bridge, he's learning things about the life he's living. There's lots of stuff, but for example, he's learning what it means to love another person other than himself, and what it means to love people in the community that he's living in. The book was published in 1941. As his death approaches, Robert Jordan starts to see these lessons in a sharper perspective and thinks, even though he's going to die at the end of the book, that he can live a worthwhile, meaningful life. Indeed, it's his knowledge of his death that makes his life so precious.

How to Revise for Better Conciseness

When revising for conciseness, you want to ask yourself two questions about every sentence you've written. First, is the information in the sentence necessary to communicate what you're trying to communicate? If not, simply delete it. If the information is necessary, ask yourself the second question: 'How can I state this information in fewer, clearer words?' Then try it. Count the words in your sentence, then rewrite it with fewer. Repeat this process one or two times, looking especially for redundant information. Gradually, your sentence will shrink and your conciseness will improve.

Using that strategy, let's revise the passage we heard earlier:

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