Most of the time, shorter is better. The easiest way to condense your writing is to give it a clear structure. Sketching is one way to do that. Here are a few other tips for organizing your thoughts.
Start with the main idea
Think about what people need to know right away. Move that information up to the top. Don’t get to the point; start with it.
Find a direct and polite way to express your idea. Talking it out with a friend or coworker can help. Record yourself if you can so you can hear how you phrase things. Ask yourself: What am I trying to say? The answer to that question is often shorter than whatever you wrote down.
Make it scannable
Pull related ideas together. Arrange similar topics into modules and sections. Then, you can easily move anything that’s out of order or fill in the gaps. As your paragraphs get longer, add clear headings to them. If you want to call out any important points, use bulleted lists to summarize them. Make it easy for readers to skim, find what they need, and know what’s coming next.
Use simple sentences
Break down big ideas into manageable bites. Keep your sentences as short as possible.
Avoid trailing on:
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Instead, try paring it down:
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Don’t make people read more than they need to. Once you figure out what your point is, whittle the writing down to the essentials. Here’s another wordy example:
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Instead, cut the extra words:
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Cover one idea at a time. If you need to include secondary information, try linking to it instead of summarizing or repeating yourself.
Talk to your readers
Use the imperative when it’s appropriate. Talk to your readers, not at them. Tell them what to do in a kind and straightforward way. This little change in perspective can help you be concise.
For example, avoid talking about yourself:
- For the holidays, our customers can find the perfect children’s books on our website.
- We’re excited to announce that we are introducing over 30 new products to our shop for the holidays.
Instead, be direct:
- Find the perfect holiday gift. Shop now.
- There are over 30 new items in the shop today! See what’s on sale.
Be careful with the passive voice, where the subject of the sentence comes after the object:
- You have received a gift card from Maria.
Instead, use the active voice:
- Maria sent you a gift card.
Balance being direct with being nice. Huddle your nouns and verbs close together to shorten your sentences. Active verbs help you write concisely and invigorate your prose so that it feels more like a conversation.
Be careful with negative language, which is usually longer and less friendly than positive language.Avoid telling readers what they can’t do:
- You cannot continue without signing in.
Instead, be positive or neutral:
- Sign in to continue.
And while it’s generally best to avoid the passive voice, in certain situations it helps you sound softer without adding too many words. It’s especially useful for time-sensitive messages like payment confirmations and error messages. Directness can sometimes sound terse or robotic:
- We couldn’t authorize your credit card. We cancelled your order.
In those cases, soften the language:
- We were unable to authorize your credit card. Your order has been cancelled.
Conciseness is a trickier concept, because it isn’t always appropriate. You may need to vary the lengths of your sentences to keep them friendly. If you use several short sentences in a row, you can end up sounding sharp or stiff. It’s also possible to cut too much, to oversimplify a complicated issue, or to reduce your message to something generic. Find the simplest way to say what you mean without losing important details.