Clear writing is usually concise. The more words we use, the more likely we are to miscommunicate. Or to over-explain something simple. Or to flat out say the wrong thing. That’s why the Bible says, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.”
Unfortunately, many of us are trained by reading bad writing to believe that writing clear and concise sentences is a sign of intellectual weakness. (Or some such nonsense.) This is especially true if you’ve spent much time in academic circles, where bad writing abounds. Academics often use five words where one or two will do. In this way they sin, if I’m reading Proverbs 10:19 correctly.
So for the sake of clarity and your own sanctification, delete all the words you can without losing meaning. Most manuscripts easily could be reduced by 25% without sacrificing any crucial content. Of course you want to delete the right words. But that isn’t hard to do. Here are some tips (illustrated with real-life examples):
Simplify redundancies. “In our minds, we thought…” is not a false statement. Our mind is where we do our thinking. But because our mind is the only place we do our thinking, the prepositional phrase “in our minds” is redundant. Just say, “We thought.” No one will wonder if you did it with your toes. (Note: we reduced the word count by 60%.)
Beware of prepositional phrases. Sometimes we’ll be tempted to address an issue “in a broad manner” when we should simply address it “broadly.” Prepositional phrases are bland. Why say someone arrived at his point “in a roundabout way” when you could say he made his way there “circuitously”? (Note: in both cases we reduced the word count by 75%.)
Trust your verbs. Don’t use the noun (nominal) form of a word when there is a verb form: Instead of “provide a reorientation,” say “reorient” (a 33% reduction in length). Instead of saying “There is no possibility for success,” say “success is impossible” (a 50% reduction). Instead of “to be a deterrent,” write “to deter” (another 50% reduction). Letting your verbs do the work keeps your prose clear and active.
Another strategy is to give yourself a strict word limit and stick to it. I’ve committed to spending no more than 500 words on these posts about writing. It’s good practice—a small step toward godliness and good writing.