Concise and Nice


Lately, I've received a lot of excellent questions from writers who want to write concisely but worry about sounding too curt, brief, unfriendly, or formal.

They've asked insightful writing questions like:

  • How can I write concisely but still sound kind and show that I care?

  • Won't cutting out all my "fluff" make my writing sound too harsh?

  • To be both concise and relational, should I add friendly "fluff" here and there?

In short, they've wondered how to write in a way that builds relationships without getting too wordy or destroying clarity and concision. These good questions illustrate some of the complexities we face as writers. Often, we're trying to balance two seemingly-competing factors: concise writing and relational writing.

Fortunately, we can write concisely while still building relationships through our writing. Here's the secret: Instead of adding more words to add familiarity and courtesy, we can just be more choosy about the words we're already using.

One of our best opportunities for doing this lies in our use of verbs. Verbs do a great job of providing information. However, we can also use verbs to set a tone or mood, or to alter the level of formality or familiarity in our writing.

Notice the example verbs in the graphic above. Which verbs sound serious and formal? I'm thinking definitely "solicit," and probably "request" as well. Which sound like the committee really cares about our thoughts? Maybe "invite," "welcome," or even "need."

This shows us how we can adjust tone and formality without adding words. Instead, we just pivot to words that carry not only the meaning we're after, but the tone too - another good example of writing with intention.

And it's not just verbs either. We can adjust mood and tone with nouns as well, for example. Consider which of the following sound more inclusive than others, for example - or more serious, or more casual:

  • Employees are welcome to submit feedback.

  • You are welcome to submit feedback.

  • All team members are welcome to submit feedback.

  • Everyone is welcome to submit feedback.

We're smart to worry about the complexities of concise writing. Will sounding "too" concise sound too "harsh"? Luckily, we don't have to choose one over the other. We can write concisely and with friendliness by focusing on which specific words we're choosing.

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