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10 Techniques for More Precise Writing

Here are ten ways to produce more vivid, direct, concise prose by replacing wordy phrases with fewer words and reorganizing sentences. It is not advisable to employ these strategies indiscriminately, but prose will usually be improved by following the recommendations below.

1. Use Active Voice
When a sentence includes be or any other copulative verb, such as is or are, recast the sentence to omit the verb.
Before: “The meeting was seen by us as a ploy to delay the project.”
After: “We saw the meeting as a ploy to delay the project.”

2. Avoid Vague Nouns
Phrases formed around general nouns such as aspect, degree, and situation clutter sentences.
Before: “She is an expert in the area of international relations.”
After: “She is an expert in international relations.”

3. Use Words, Not Their Definitions
Replace explanatory phrases with a single word that encapsulates that explanation.
Before: “The crops also needed to be marketable so that families would be able to sell any yields that exceeded what they personally required.”
After: “The crops also needed to be marketable so that families would be able to sell any surplus.”

4. Avoid Noun Strings
Reorganize sentences to eliminate series of nouns used as adjectives.
Before: “The lack of a secure transfer may hamper computer security incident response efforts.”
After: “The lack of a secure transfer may hamper responses to computer-security incidents.”

5. Convert Nouns to Verbs
When a sentence includes a noun ending in -tion, change the noun to a verb to simplify the sentence.
Before: “They will collaborate in the creation of new guidelines.”
After: “They will collaborate to create new guidelines.”

6. Reduce Verb Phrases to Simple Verbs
Identify the verb buried in a verb phrase and omit the rest of the phrase.
Before: “The results are suggestive of the fact that tampering has occurred.”
After: “The results suggest that tampering has occurred.”

7. Replace Complex Words with Simple Ones
Choose simpler synonyms for multisyllabic words.
Before: “The department will disseminate the forms soon.”
After: “The department will pass out the forms soon.”

8. Avoid Expletives
Don’t start sentences with “There is,” “There are,” or “It is.”
Before: “There are many factors in the product’s failure.”
After: “Many factors contributed to the product’s failure.”

9. Eliminate Prepositional Phrases
Replace “(noun1) of the (noun2)” phrasing with “(noun2)’s (noun1)” phrasing.
Before: “The decision of the committee is final.”
After: “The committee’s decision is final.”

10. Reduce Wordy Phrases to Single Words
Replace phrases that signal a transition with simple conjunctions, verbs, or other linking words.
Before: Due to the fact that the project is behind schedule, today’s meeting has been postponed.
After: Because the project is behind schedule, today’s meeting has been postponed.