Writing Tip of the Week: Clear and Concise Writing

Don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful, flowing narrative, but if by the time I’m done reading I have no clue what you said, you may have missed your mark. Your writing doesn’t have to be long and complicated to be well-written. Clear and concise is beautiful, too.

Some researchers believe that the average attention span of a human is 8 seconds. Are you kidding me?! Eight seconds? What’s the point of even writing more than one paragraph, or one sentence for that matter. According to science, you probably won’t even finish it.

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If you’ve only got 8 seconds to get your point across, it stands to reason that we shouldn’t take our time getting there.

So in the spirit of writing to the point, I give you, the Hemingway Editor (http://www.hemingwayapp.com)! I ran across this site on StumbleUpon and had to share. Hemingway is the King of clear and concise, so why not learn from the master. Take a bit of your work and try it out. Replace that long, awkward word with one that is simpler and drives the point home harder. Split your long sentences into short punchy ones. Make your writing hit the reader hard. Leave them breathless.

To show you how it works, check out the little excerpt I wrote below, and the edited one beneath it:

Pre-Edit:
Clara sat at the lopsided Starbucks table, constantly readjusting her notebook every time the uneven legs would make a sudden shift. She sighed in exasperation and checked her watch. He was late. Again.

She tapped her pen nervously against her ink stained page; her latte was nearly finished when a new one miraculously appeared before her.

“Sorry,” he said, sliding into the vacant seat, putting his arms on the table and causing it to shift again. “Traffic was rough.”

Post-Edit:
Clara sat at the lopsided Starbucks table. Every movement causing the uneven legs to make a sudden shift. She sighed in exasperation and checked her watch. He was late. Again.

She fidgeted, tapping her pen against the ink stained page of her notebook. Her latte was just finished when a new one appeared before her.

“Sorry,” he said, sliding into the vacant seat, putting his arms on the table and causing it to shift again. “Traffic was rough.”

Notes:
-According to the Hemingway Editor, my first and second paragraphs needed a little work. The sentences were a bit long. I rearranged a few things and cut out some unnecessary words.
-I was also pretty adverb heavy. A lot of times, you don’t need the adverb when a plain old verb will do. For instance, “She tapped her pen nervously,” changed to “She fidgeted, tapping her pen” gives us more action while delivering the same message. Fidgeting suggests Clara was nervous and annoyed, which is what I took out from the pre-edit.
-My second paragraph was marked as “hard to read.” I intentionally made that one awkward. Semi-colons are cool and all, but not always the best choice. When in doubt, just opt for two sentences, because chances are, you used the semi-colon wrong anyway.

I hope this post helps with your writing this week! By no means should you get rid of all your commas and fancy sentences. This very post is littered with them. But often we writers try a little too hard to impress our readers. Unfortunately for us, what we see as impressive, they often see as stuffy or needlessly complicated.

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Sorry, couldn’t resist that last one.

[Did this post help you? Let me know at @tclem91 on Twitter or comment below!]

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One thought on “Writing Tip of the Week: Clear and Concise Writing

  1. Pingback: Pick My Brain: Why having minor mental breakdowns can wait one more day. | This Stage of Life

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