What is concision?

Concision is the principle of writing effectively. When a professor asks us to “cut out the fluff” or “get to the point,” they want us to make our writing more concise — to make it punchier, more straightforward, and more deliberate. Making writing concise often involves cutting out words that don’t mean much, or rephrasing sentences to make them shorter, but the ultimate goal of concision is effectiveness rather than shortness.

As writers we have to fight for readers' attention. Even if your audience is forced to read your writing (like most professors are), you probably don’t want to bore them. Being concise will help your writing be clear, compelling, and easy to read. Below are three recommendations for making your writing more concise.

1. Replace weak words with strong, specific words

Sentences get clunky when multiple vague words try to do the work of one more specific word.

  • Clunky:

The thing to do before anything else  is to use butter that’s been softened instead of oil in the cake recipe on the box of the cake mix and combine the butter, sugar, and eggs together.

  • Concise:

First, substitute softened butter for the oil in the cake mix recipe and combine the butter, sugar, and eggs.

In this example, the phrases “the thing to do before anything else” and “____ instead of ____” can be replaced by “first” and “substitute.” The description of “cake recipe on the box of the cake mix” can be shortened to “cake mix recipe.” “Combine together” means the same thing as “combine.” Choosing specific verbs and adjectives makes the sentence more effective and less wordy.

2. Question every word

First drafts, which are new, are often filled withrepetitive redundancies. Choosing your words carefully and making sure that each word is necessary will make your writing more concise.

  • Repetitive:

It has been shown by past history that events that cause massive societal change are usually, most often, an unexpected surprise to almost everyone.

  • Concise:

History shows that revolutionary events are usually  unexpected.

We can make this sentence more concise by asking: do we really need all of these words?  “It has been shown by” is passive, and is expressed much more efficiently as the active “history shows.” “Past history” means the same thing as “history.” The same is true of “most often” and “unexpected surprise.” Since this sentence is speaking generally, we can drop “to almost everyone” as well.

3. Question every sentence

Some sentences don’t say much. Asking, what’s the purpose of this sentence?  can help identify if a sentence is doing what it needs to, and if it needs to be a sentence at all.

  • Choppy:

Montana State University is in Bozeman. Bozeman is a ski town near Bridger Bowl. Many student skiers attend MSU because of this.

  • Concise:

Many student skiers attend Montana State University because it is in Bozeman, a ski town near Bridger Bowl. 

The first version sounds choppy. The sentences on their own are each concise, but put together they aren’t very effective because each one tells very little. It takes too long to get to the main point of why skiers attend MSU. Condensing the ideas to one sentence highlights this main purpose and maintains all the info of the first version.  

How to Revise for Concision: Examples

  • This research has made accessible a series of useful things to look for when testing  how much strain that a column undergoes. (wordy, awkward)

Revised: This research presents criteria for testing column strain.(stronger verb, noun and adjective)


  •  The mice thought but didn't know for sure that the cat would eat them. (wordy phrase) 

Revised: The mice assumed the cat would eat them. (strong verb)


  • Woodstock was a music festival famous for its legendary lineup of performers. Woodstock happened in 1969. (short sentence that doesn’t add much info)
Revised: The 1969 Woodstock music festival is famous for its legendary lineup of performers. (strong adjective) 


  • The tortilla chips were eaten by the tutors of the Writing Center with salsa. (passive voice, overlong)

Revised: The Writing Center tutors ate tortilla chips with salsa. (active voice, prepositional phrase becomes adjective phrase)

What about my word count?

Most professors can see through B.S. It’s possible to reach a word count by making your writing long-winded or obtuse. But it's likely that even if you get full credit for nailing the word count, your professor will read your piece and find that it lacks ideas.

If making your writing more concise has dropped you below a word count, do more thinking before you add fluff. See if you can deepen your argument or add new ideas. 

If you want help with concision, brainstorming, or anything else, come to the Writing Center!


Adapted from: Williams, J.M., & Bizup, J. (2017). Style: Lessons in clarity and grace (12th ed.). Pearson Education Inc.