Writing Concisely In 2015

Less is more
Happy new year, everyone!  We’re now well and truly ‘in the swing’ of 2015 and I’ve seen the expected wave of new year’s resolutions from people determined to lose weight, stop smoking, eat less unhealthy food and various other excellent changes aimed at achieving admirable goals.

The issue with saying we want to do less of something is that we’re not committing to an action of which we’ll do more, thereby moving us forward towards the end goal.  For example, I advise clients to think in terms of “I deliver effective presentations”, an advancement of “I will be better at giving presentations”, rather than “I’m going to avoid giving ineffective presentations”.  There are so many reasons why casting our minds forward to the time when we’ve achieved our goal, and imagining we’re there, provides dramatically improved motivation for making the changes and, consequently, much greater prospects of success.

In the field of bid and document writing, you need to convince the reader that your proposal is the best one.  If you’ve ever read a document that wasn’t easy to understand or that required you to read sentences more than once, then the author(s) would benefit from making changes to move towards more effective writing.

At a time of year when many people are still focused on pursuing resolutions made about doing less of something, I thought it appropriate to share thoughts on using fewer words when writing proposals to win new work from clients, framing the vision as “I write concise and impactful documents”.  If this vision strikes you as a good one to pursue, you’ll be aided by thinking, “Have I written that sentence in the most succinct and concise way?” It’s always worth stopping to check written material as it evolves, by way of real-time proof reading.

Of course, there’s much more to producing a powerful bid than merely how many words are used, but concise writing is a significant contributor to impact and persuasion.  This recognises the brevity element of this all-important equation:

Brevity + Clarity + Value = IMPACT

Are your words working for you?
Proof reading is essential to ensure your words are working hard for you. If a word is used but adds no benefit or meaning to a sentence, delete it (without leaving the sentence unintelligible).  If a sentence is shorter and easier to read, it will make much more impact.

Remove redundant words
When particular words don’t make a sentence clearer than it would be without those words, remove them (again, without rendering the sentence unintelligible).  The following two examples make the point:

‘..throughout the duration of..’ is better written as ‘..throughout..’

‘..in recognition of..’ is better written as ‘..recognising..’

Avoid nominalisations
These are phrases in which a noun is used where a verb will suffice.  Consider these examples, in which the first version is the nominalisation and the second is the better alternative:

‘..give consideration to..’   –   ‘..consider..’

‘..reach a calculation of..’   –   ‘..calculate..’

‘..give a presentation of ideas..’   –   ‘..present ideas..’

Remove ‘who’ and ‘that’ where not needed
These words can often be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence at all, as in these examples:

‘Our Technical Leader, who is available throughout Wednesday, will..’

‘Our Technical Leader, available throughout Wednesday, will..’

or

‘Our strategy of using local labour, that is the differentiator of our service, will..’

‘Our strategy of using local labour, the differentiator of our service, will..’

Even further shortening could be achieved:

‘Our strategy of using local labour, our service differentiator, will..’

Be careful about using prepositions
Consider this case:

‘The local road works are of great concern to the site Project Manager because..’

‘The local road works greatly concern the site Project Manager because..’

Here, ‘to’ and its associated words are removed to create the shorter version, which conveys the same message. Prepositions that you should use carefully or avoid are ‘on’, ‘with’, ‘in’, ‘to’ and ‘by’. Another example:

‘Our Project Director, who will attend with our Contracts Manager, will ensure..’

‘Attending together, our Project Director and Contracts Manager will ensure..’

Fine-tuning of a sentence in this way may remove only few words but, over the whole document, the saving could be hundreds of words, improving brevity and helping you meet the document length target.

Keep sentences short and ‘punchy’
Longer sentences, providing a lot of detail and descriptive language, are often viewed as being more useful for the reader than short ones.  While you mustn’t leave out key details, it’s always better to make a sentence only the length it absolutely needs to be to convey the message. Consider the following example, which I’ve made up but which resembles a number of sentences I’ve edited in clients’ documents:

‘Our business can provide the aforementioned tangible benefits for XYZ in its administration of major projects services, tailored to the specific needs of local people and communities, bearing in mind the 15 years of experience that we have gained in the area in which XYZ operates, and that we have shown in the examples included in this proposal, so that the management of major projects services will become easier, more cost-effective and simpler for XYZ.‘

A shorter and easier-to-read form could be:

‘Our 15 years’ local experience, including the examples shown, ensures we will make the administration of major projects services easier, more cost-effective and simpler to manage for XYZ.’

What has your experience been?
Please share your thoughts on concise writing.  This article provides only a handful of examples to show how written material can be shorter and more concise.  Do you think being concise and ‘getting to the point’ makes a difference?  Do you ever have to read sentences more than once to understand the messages?