Concise Language: Yeah or Nay?
This might seem like an odd query from someone who regularly espouses “less is more.” But, those of you who are using the latest version of Microsoft Word may be learning the same lesson I am: its definition of concise is not the same as mine.
Here are some phrases that earn a “use concise language” alert, along with the recommended alternatives:
a number of
an absolutely perfect
may actually be
take a peek
a few, many or several
And here’s my favorite: I wrote, “They pay tribute to the town’s most important industries — cotton, in particular.” Word recommended getting rid of “in particular,” which makes no sense.
Of course, some of its recommendations are valuable, such as using “each recipient” instead of “each and every recipient” or “planning” instead of “planning ahead.” But, the words you choose typically depend on context — which is something Word doesn’t know — and sometimes a word like “absolutely” or “actually” adds necessary emphasis.
My recommendation? As I’ve said many times before, don’t blindly follow the guidance Word provides you; when weighing the merits of so-called concise language against what you’re trying to say, you should usually follow your gut. And, “buyer beware” with respect to grammar recommendations, like these two I recently received:
- I typed “an occasion worth celebrating” and Word recommended putting a comma after occasion.
- I typed “ensure it’s manageable,” and Word recommended using its instead.
May 19 will mark 15 years since my dad died. He was an excellent writer who loved to show off his extensive vocabulary — even though I told him countless times simpler is always better. In his memory, here are some complex words, and their simpler alternatives: ameliorate and improve, expeditious and fast, proficiencies and skills, renumeration and payment, commence and begin or start, deleterious and harmful, prescribed and required. To ensure your audience doesn’t stop reading when faced with unfamiliar words, always write simply. Sorry, dad. Miss you every day.
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