Today, let’s learn some useful methods to make your English writing clearer and more concise!
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concise (adj) /kənˈsaɪs/
expressing information clearly without unnecessary words
to publish (v) /ˈpʌblɪʃ/
make information available to read
essential (adj) /ɪˈsenʃəl/
extremely important and necessary
literature (n) /ˈlɪt(ə)rətʃə/
written texts, often considered to be art
wordy (adj) /ˈwɜːdi/
using too many words
straightaway (adv) /ˌstreɪtəˈweɪ/
at once, immediately
jargon (n) /ˈdʒɑːɡən/
highly technical words not understood outside particular groups of people
invaluable (adj) /ɪnˈvæljuəbl/
hypocritical (adj) /ˌhɪpəˈkrɪtɪkəl/
behaving in a way that is different from what you claim to believe
meaningless (adj) /ˈmiːnɪŋləs/
having no purpose or importance
essential (adj) /ɪˈsenʃəl/
extremely important, necessary
contribution (n) /ˌkɒntrəˈbjuːʃən/
something that you give or do in order to help something be successful
descriptive (adj) /dɪˈskrɪptɪv/
describing something, especially in a detailed way
“less is more” (phr)
something simple is more effective than something complicated
reiterate (v) /riːˈɪtəreɪt/
to repeat a statement or opinion in order to make your meaning as clear as possible
to facilitate (v) /fəˈsɪlɪteɪt/
to make something possible
“practise what you preach” (phr)
to do the things that you advise other people to do
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Importance of Writing
Learning to write in a clear and concise manner is an important skill for many English learners. Most of you listening (at least those of you who I have talked with in person), tend to write in English a lot more than you speak in English.
Maybe you need to write English emails to colleagues, clients, or suppliers overseas. Perhaps your company published monthly English language reports and summaries. Or you need to update your businesses website with English language articles and descriptions.
In business, writing is an essential skill. And often the key purpose, the main aim, of business writing is to communicate a direct message. To tell someone (your colleague, boss, client, supplier) something: this is usually why we write emails or reports.
In other parts of life, writing can be different. In literature, writing is designed to entertain readers. In marketing, writing is designed to captivate and persuade people. My podcast, which I write as a script, is designed to entertain, educate, and demonstrate to vocabulary.
- Bonus Episodes
- Extra Content
- Live Chats
- Language Meet ups
- English Classes
- And Much More!
Sometimes You Need to be Concise
But at work and some other parts of life, sometimes clearly communicating your message is the most important element for a writer. Of course, complicated topics may require a long email or a lot of space. But wordy and repetitive writing can make it more difficult to understand what you are trying to say.
When I write this podcast, I want people to spend time thinking about the topics, the language I use, and the content. But when I sent an email to the Japanese immigration office last week, I wanted them to understand what I was asking straightaway. So, I wrote them a very concise email,
My name is Tom Wilkinson, and I am currently in Japan on a student visa. Could you please explain the process of extending a visa once I have finished my research?
Two sentences (with formal greetings added): a concise and clear email which received a concise and clear response. This is exactly what I wanted.
If you add in too many words, idioms, jargon, or meaningless phrases, you may start to confuse the target audience of your writing. You want people to spend time thinking about what you are saying, rather than spending time trying to figure out what you mean.
So, I am going to give you a few tips to help you write clearly and concisely. As I already mentioned, this isn’t necessarily relevant for everyone (I certainly don’t always follow the advice I’m about to give you), but for people who need English for work learning the skill of concise writing is invaluable.
How to Improve Your Business English Writing
Delete Meaningless Words
One of the best methods to make writing more concise is to remove adverbs. This might sound hypocritical as I often use adverbs in my podcasts, but when I write in business or academic situations, I try to cut them out.
Of course, if the adverb is essential to the meaning of your sentence you should keep it… but often they add nothing to your writing – they are meaningless words. Let me give you an example…
Here is a sentence with adverbs,
People are so used to using adverbs that it can actually sound totally strange to not use them. Generally, once you stop using adverbs you won’t really miss them, and your writing will literally improve.
Here is the same sentence without adverbs.
People are so used to using adverbs that it can sound strange to not use them. Once you stop using adverbs you won’t miss them, and your writing will improve
Both of these sentences communicate the same meaning, but the sentence without adverbs is significantly clearer. Try asking yourself some questions while writing to help decide if a word is essential.
- If you cut the word, does the meaning change?
- If you keep the word, will your message be less powerful?
- What does the word add to your sentence?
Sometimes an adverb can have an important contribution to a sentence. Take another example,
The Thinking in English conversation club is exclusively available to Patreon subscribers.
In this sentence, the adverb exclusively is emphasising that only Patreon subscriber can join my conversation club – and that is an important part of the sentence. If you want to be clearer, you could rewrite the sentence…
You must be a member of the Patreon to join the Thinking in English Conversation Club.
In summary, keep the words that are essential, cut the words that are not essential.
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Cut Out Descriptive Sentences
Descriptive sentences are another thing you can cut out or reduce to make your writing more concise and clearer. Remember, you don’t need to write a story or describe everything that happened in your reports, documents, and emails.
Consider this example,
I had a meeting with the potential supplier last week. After listening to their pitch, I believe we should reconsider our partnership.
The first sentence – I had a meeting with a potential supplier last week – does offer some new information, but it does not tell the reader why this information matters. Instead, try to add a claim or important piece of information to each descriptive sentence.
After meeting with the potential supplier last week, I believe we should reconsider our partnership.
In this sentence, we have kept all of that new information while telling people why it mattered and giving them a clue about what to expect from the rest of the paragraph or document.
Even if you do just want to describe the meeting you had (and you don’t want or need to talk about the consequences), you can still add more information to help the reader focus their attention. When writing, you need to be making it as easy as possible for the reader to comprehend your message.
Instead of I had a meeting with the potential supplier, you could write something like My meeting with the potential supplier focused on cost cutting initiatives.
Instead of putting the emphasis on the meeting, you have now put the focus on the topic of the meeting.
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Stop Repeating Yourself
When I write Thinking in English episodes, I often repeat myself to reiterate points, demonstrate similar grammar, and give English learners another opportunity to understand what I’m saying. When writing professional emails or reports, this is not necessary.
Let me give you an example of these overlapping sentences.
Every Friday I upload bonus Thinking in English episodes on my Patreon. You can find the episodes over on Patreon, and they include more personal topics and recommendations than main episodes.
In this example, the first sentence makes a point (I upload bonus episodes), which is then expanded upon in the second sentence (I upload bonus episodes with exclusive content). However, I can cut out repetition and combine everything into one sentence.
Every Friday I upload bonus Thinking in English episodes covering personal topics and recommendations on my Patreon.
By combining the two sentences, I have cut out a lot of words and repetition, but the meaning is identical. It is now clearer and more concise.
Don’t Explain It, Just Do It
Here are two example sentences:
I want to reiterate that attendance at next week’s meeting is compulsory.
Attendance at next week’s meeting is compulsory.
You don’t always need to offer a commentary of what you are doing; in other words, when writing business English, you should focus on the message you are trying to express, rather than explaining what you are doing.
In some circumstances, you may want the reader to follow your thought process while writing the document or email. But most of the time, the reader probably cares more about the final message, so it is better to cut out your commentary.
Other examples of this kind of writing include,
- I want to point out…
- I will now offer you…
- I am going to explain…
Cutting out phrases like this will put focus on your message rather than on your thought process!
- The subject performs the action of the verb.
- The actor is the focus.
- e.g. “The dog bit the man.”
- The action of the verb is performed on the subject.
- The actor is not the focus and can be hidden (or implied).
- E.g. “The man was bitten (by the dog/mosquito/piranha.)”
Active Sentences Instead of Passive Sentences (Sometimes)
And finally, using active sentences can make your point clearer and reduce the need for follow up or confirmation emails.
Here is an example from an email I recently received,
Documents must be approved by next week.
While I knew what documents needed to be approved, I was a little confused… who do I need to approve my documents? The email doesn’t mention this at all. So, I needed to send another email asking for clarification, which slowed down the whole process. Things would have been much simpler if the office had used an active sentence,
The general office must approve your application documents by next week.
However, you shouldn’t always follow the rule of active sentences over passive sentences. It again depends on what you want to emphasise – is your purpose in writing to focus on the person doing an action, or on the action itself?
Here are two examples,
I have decided to close the office on Mondays.
The decision has been made to close the office on Mondays.
The first sentence – I have decided to close the office on Mondays – puts the focus on you and your decision. The second sentence – The decision has been made to close the office on Mondays – puts the focus on the decision itself.
Today, I have given you all a few tips on how to make your writing clearer and more concise. This is especially useful for people who need to use business English: keeping an email or report concise will allow the focus to be on your message and facilitate easy communication.
Of course, if you are working in a creative industry – these tips are not necessarily useful. You will notice that I don’t follow my own advice while writing Thinking in English episodes. But when I need to send an important email, I definitely keep my language concise to remove the possibility of confusion.
Do you need to write in English at work? Have you ever written English language emails or summaries? How was it?