Writing Concisely

Writing concisely is an essential skill to develop for writing in psychology. By writing concisely you can clearly and effectively communicate your ideas to a reader. It is a skill that requires practice and by following the below tips to writing concisely, you will be able to develop your skill in effective written communication.

Writing that is wordy is difficult to read. Wordiness also makes it difficult to understand points that are being made. An example of a wordy paragraph and how to make it more concise can be found at this page.

1. Delete redundant words
Redundant words creep into your writing when you say the same thing twice. In many cases, you will be able to reduce two words into one. For example, in the phrase “final outcome”, the word “final” is redundant because “outcome” is intrinsically the last thing. Some examples commonly seen in student psychology assignments include:

  • 12 noon becomes noon

  • 4 pm in the afternoon becomes 4 pm

  • cooperated together becomes cooperated

  • close proximity becomes close

  • end result becomes result

  • he/she is a person who becomes they

  • in the field of psychology becomes in psychology

  • one in the same becomes the same

  • period of three minutes becomes three minutes

  • repeat again becomes repeat

  • small in size becomes small

  • square in shape becomes square

  • summarise briefly becomes summarise

  • a total of 15 becomes 15

  • first and foremost becomes first

  • true and accurate becomes accurate

2. Reduce phrases to words
Commonly used phrases can be replaced with single words. This helps you write more succinctly. For example, the phrase "due to the fact that..." can be replaced with the word "because". Below are some more examples of reducing phrases to words:

  • on the other hand becomes however or alternatively

  • taking into account becomes considering

  • despite the fact becomes despite

  • in conclusion to this becomes conclusively

  • in light of the fact becomes given

  • in consideration of becomes considering

  • it is necessary becomes must or should

  • in the event that becomes if

  • accounting for the fact that becomes permitting

3. Avoiding qualifiers and intensifiers
Qualifiers and intensifiers are not necessary and by removing them you can reduce your word count. Qualifiers and intensifiers also weaken your writing. For example "It is probably a very good idea to edit you work" can be strengthened by changing it to: "It is a good idea to edit your work". By removing qualifiers and intensifiers, ideas are expressed more concisely. Common qualifiers and intensifiers to avoid include:

  • extremely

  • really

  • probably

  • very

  • kind of

  • practically

  • basically

  • actually

  • definitely

  • somewhat

4. Remove expletives
Expletives add words without adding meaning. Examples of expletives include "there is" or "it was". By removing expletives you can communicate your ideas in fewer words. For example, "There are many researchers who believe that writing clearly is important" becomes "Many researchers believe that writing clearly is important". Below are more examples of sentences with and without expletives:

  • "It was her last statement that was most clear" becomes "her last statement was the clearest"

  • "There were many people waiting" becomes "many people were waiting"

  • "When I look back, it seems my parents knew best" becomes "When I look back, my parents knew best"

5. Avoid inflated word use
Whilst having a wide vocabulary is useful, simple words can convey your ideas more concisely . For instance, "Smith demonstrated that discontinuing his medication had detrimental effects" becomes "Smith showed that stopping his medication had a negative effect". Using simple words make it easier for your audience to read large amounts of text and to grasp concepts. Try looking up a synonym if you have trouble thinking of a simpler word. More ideas for avoiding inflated words are below:

  • accumulate becomes gather

  • acquire becomes get

  • assist becomes help

  • demonstrate and illustrate becomes show

  • nevertheless becomes however

  • objective becomes aim

  • utilise becomes use

  • conceal becomes cover

  • depicted becomes shown

6. Avoid clichés and euphemisms
Clichés and euphemisms reduce the impact of your writing. Clichés are phrases that have been overused and lack originality. Clichés do not effectively communicate ideas and will increase your word count. Examples of clichés include:

  • face the music

  • time will tell

  • tried and true

  • opposites attract

  • a diamond in the rough

  • fit as a fiddle

  • kicked the bucket

Euphemisms are phrases written in a mild and more agreeable manner that would usually be offensive or embarrassing. In doing so, euphemisms diminish the seriousness of what is written. Example of euphemisms include:

  • vertically challenged instead of short

  • economical with the truth instead of liar

  • adult beverage instead of alcohol

  • on the streets instead of homeless

  • between jobs instead of unemployed

However, be aware that in psychology, euphemisms for professional and/or sensitivity reasons are sometimes used. For example, "passed away" instead of "died", "correctional facility" instead of "gaol", and "intellectual impairment" instead of "handicapped". Therefore, avoid euphemisms that diminish the seriousness of a situation or condition but be aware that professionally appropriate ones exist.
7. Change negatives into affirmatives
Using negatives, such as 'do not', when writing encourages a less concise writing style. By using a negative form of writing you use an extra word and sentences can be confusing to the reader. By turning negatives into affirmatives you will write more concisely making it easier for your reader to understand what you are saying. Below are some examples of negative and affirmative statements:

Negative: If you do not have more than five years of work experience, do not call for a job interview.

Affirmative: Applicants with five or more years of experience should apply for a job interview.

Negative: Students who don't get appropriate grades should not apply for the graduate program.

Affirmative: Students who get appropriate grades should apply for the graduate program.

Negative: Patrons who do not like the ambience of the restaurant will not go there to dine.

Affirmative: Patrons who like the ambience of the restaurant will go there to dine.

Notice when reading the affirmative statements that the idea was clearer and that fewer words were used.
8. Using an active writing style
An active writing style involves constructing sentences where the person (or thing) performing the action comes first. Conversely, a passive style inserts the object that is receiving the action first whilst the person comes last. An active writing style is direct and concise and keeps a reader more engaged (always a positive!). For example:

Passive: A good session was conducted by the psychologist.

Active: The psychologist conducted a good session.

Passive: It was demonstrated that low exam marks were associated with high stress by Brown (2014).

Active: Brown (2014) demonstrated that low exam marks were associated with high stress.

Passive: It was argued by Kowalski (2015) that statistics is an essential skill.

Active: Kowalski (2015) argued that statistics is an essential skill.

Notice how fewer words were used with the active writing style. Active writing helps you write concisely and remain within your word count.
9. Structuring your assignment
When preparing your assessment you should consider not only how you will write it but also the structure of the assessment. Questions to ask yourself include: Is this a research report or essay? What is my argument or the idea I am trying to convey? Who is the audience?

Research report or essay writing: A research report and essay have different purposes and structure. A research report is a scientific piece of writing that reports study outcomes whereas an essay can be used to give a literature review, a reflective piece, present an argument, or discuss ideas. Keep in mind the purpose and structure of your assessment when writing it and avoid repeating ideas, exclude irrelevant information, and present ideas in a logical sequence. As a result, your assessment will be organised, will have a progressive flow of ideas, and will include only purposeful content.

The argument or idea: Consider the idea or argument that you are trying to convey. Each sentence and paragraph should add to this and have purpose. When editing your work, critically evaluate your work to determine if each paragraph conveys your idea. Deleting sentences or paragraphs that do not support your idea will strengthen your writing.

The audience: Consider the audience you are writing for. You can assume the reader has some background knowledge if they are an expert in the field or your teacher. For example, for a psychology assessment you don't need to include that "Sigmund Freud was one of the most famous psychologists of all time". Instead, focus on content that adds to your argument.

View the video below for a worked example on how to write a paragraph more concisely.