Concise writing – package 1

In Concise writing – packages 1 and 2 we shall look at how to achieve a modern, professional style of business writing. Specifically we shall work on strategies and skills that will allow us to simply and directly without losing the main thrust of the content or diminishing the tone of our correspondence.


The features of concise writing style
In this package, we shall work on simplifying a text by:
  • using familiar words not unfamiliar ones
• avoiding old-fashioned jargon
• cutting out unnecessary words and simplifying language by:
  - replacing phrases with words
- avoiding wordy fixed phrases
- cutting out prepositional expressions

What’s the problem?

Too frequently in the workplace we are faced with emails, letters, reports and other business correspondence which is unnecessarily complex and verbose. This is often because we tend to copy a style which we consider to appropriate in an office setting. This style is often quite formal, somewhat old-fashioned and usually quite complicated. In reality what we should be aiming for is quite the opposite. Look at this example:

Version 1

I believe that a meeting is urgently required in order to alleviate the adverse impact on the morale of our personnel due to the impending remuneration review.

Is it easy to understand?
Could you make it clearer?
Is it long?
Could you make it shorter?

Now compare it with this version:

Version 2

I think that we need to hold a meeting to discuss how the pay cuts will affect staff morale.

Why is this easier to understand?
Why is it clearer?

Well clearly the answers are that the second version is far better because the language is simpler, clearer, less complex and shorter. So in this package we shall explore three strategies which can improve the clarity and conciseness of your workplace writing.

Use familiar words

One method of simplifying your workplace writing is using familiar words rather than complex ones which may be difficult for your audience to understand.
Activity 1 – use familiar words and phrases
Drag the unfamiliar words on the left and drop them next to the simpler, more common words in the table.

Avoid old-fashioned, out of date words and phrases
Another common failing in workplace writing is the use of quite formal, old-fashioned expressions. For example:
Old-fashioned business English jargon Normal English
I remain sir your faithful and obedient servant Yours faithfully

Activity 2 - avoid old-fashioned, out of date words and phrases
For this activity, drag the normal English word orexpression below and drop it next to the matching old-fashioned business English jargon equivalent.

Cut out unnecessary words

Many writers say things in ten words when five would do. As a result, paragraphs become dense blocks of text that are difficult to navigate and sentences are often unnecessarily long and awkward.

Look at this example:

We finally came to an agreement at 3 o’clock in the morning.

We finally agreed at 3 o’clock in the morning.

There are a number of ways of cutting out unnecessary words but one method is to focus more on verbs and less on nouns. We shall explore this in more detail in package 2 but for the record 
when we use the noun form of a verb it is called nominalization and we should try to avoid it in workplace writing. Look again at this example.

We finally agreed at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Activity 3 - cut out unnecessary words
Read the following commonly used expressions. Can you think of more concise terms? When you’ve finished, click on the SUBMIT button and compare your answers.
1. arrive at a conclusion
Your answer: Possible Answer:
2. forward by mail
Your answer: Possible Answer:
send / post / mail
3. for the purpose of      
Your answer: Possible Answer:
4. in connection with
Your answer: Possible Answer:
5. inform me of the reason        
Your answer: Possible Answer:
tell me why / tell me the reason why / explain why
6. place emphasis on
Your answer: Possible Answer:
emphasize / stress
7. with a view to
Your answer: Possible Answer:
8. I am not in a position to…
Your answer: Possible Answer:
I am unable to / I cannot
9. in the course of
Your answer: Possible Answer:
10. I am of the opinion that…      
Your answer: Possible Answer:
I think

Activity 4
Now can you re-write these sentences more concisely? When you’ve finished, click on the SUBMIT button and compare your answers.
1. Let me repeat again that, at this moment in time, it is the customary practice of the company to place an emphasis on the value of concise writing.

Your answer:

I would like to remind you that this company emphasises / we emphasise conciseness.
2. I am afraid that I am not in a position to grant your request with reference to the duration of the delivery delay unless you inform me of the reason why you need this information.

Your answer:

I am afraid I am unable to accept your delivery delay request unless you tell me the reason ? why.
3. Past experience has taught us the importance of utilizing the services of independent reviewers.

Your answer:

Experience has taught the importance of using independent reviewers.

Activity 5
Finally, can you re-write this email more concisely? When you’ve finished, click on the SUBMIT button and compare your answers.

Dear all

Please be informed that there will be a meeting in the conference room at 2.30 tomorrow afternoon, the purpose and reasoning of which is to stipulate and provide all members of staff with practical and useable guidelines for the claiming and issuing of expenses as they relate to entertaining overseas clients and guests, though not consultants as they do not come under the headings hereto detailed, and to enforce the aforementioned rules and guidelines in the best interests of the company in order to account for such expenditure.

The meeting won’t last long but could you please be on time.


KY Kwok


Your answer:

Dear all

Could you all attend a meeting in the conference room at 2.30 tomorrow afternoon to discuss entertainment expenses?

The meeting won’t last long but could you please be on time.


KY Kwok

Copyright© 2012-2013 UGC ICOSA Project, Hong Kong. All rights reserved.