Keep It Short, Strong, and Specific

Writing is the process of putting thoughts and ideas into written (or typed) words. But when it comes to good writing, not just any words will do. Words need to be powerful and evoke a response from your readers. For that to be accomplished, it is imperative that you follow the three S's: short, strong, specific.

People like to read material that is easy to be read. This is not to say that the average reader is not intelligent. It is only to say that generally our readers are pressed for time so they want to get the most information they can in the least amount of time. For their benefit, we would do well to keep our words short, our sentences short, and our paragraphs short. Not only does this allow us to get our message across more quickly, but short words and sentences can display great power. Ernest Hemingway is an excellent example of this type of writing. It's been said that he wrote with simple genius, getting straight to the point. That should be our goal as well.

If we're going to use fewer words, however, we must be sure that the words we use are strong. Instead of saying, "He walked up and down the length of the hall," we can simply say, "He paced." The word "paced" conjures feelings of anxiety, confusion, and restlessness whereas "walked" simply brings to mind the picture of someone walking. We accomplish more in a sentence of two words than we do in a sentence of ten words.

Not only does our word need to be strong, but for it to be effective, it must be specific. It is never wise to settle for a general word. Get specific. Sobbed, not cried. Lumbered, not walked. Peered, not looked. Muttered, not said. Choose words that can describe your exact meaning without needing an adjective or adverb to enhance them.

Concise writing is knowing what you want to say and then saying it as best you can in as little space as necessary. By keeping your words both strong and specific, you will be able to keep your writing to the point. William Strunk Jr., author of The Elements of Style, says it best: Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.


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