Friday, May 3, 2013

Is your writing brief, concise, or both?

By Dennis Mellersh

If the draft of your book manuscript is 300 pages when it could have been pared down to 200 pages without losing any meaning, it is probably not sufficiently concise. On the other hand, if it is 200 pages when at least 300 pages would be needed to convey its meaning and message, it is likely too brief.

In their book Effective Writing (1) authors Kellogg Smith and Jane Stapleford make the point that the terms conciseness and brevity have different meanings, and they advise writers, ”Be sure that you grasp the distinction between mere brevity – the use of few words – and conciseness – the use of the precise number of words needed.”

Of the two writing attributes, brevity and conciseness, the quality of being concise is the attribute you should be working towards in all of your writing. That is, not using more words than are necessary to adequately convey the information you want to your readers.

This does not mean that you should write in only short sentences, or that you should eliminate adjectives, adverbs and descriptive details from the writing in your book. Rather, it means you should be looking for ways to eliminate unnecessary words from your writing.

By contrast, the quality of brevity in writing is not always desirable, or necessary. It depends more on the purpose of the writing. If you are writing the foreword or introduction to your book for example, you don’t want the introduction to go on…and on…and on. You want it to be brief.

(1) Effective Writing, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1963

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