Concision (alternatively brevity, laconicism, terseness, or conciseness) is the art and practice of minimizing words used to convey an idea. It aims to make communication more effective by eliminating redundancy without omitting important information. Concision has been described as one of the elementary principles of writing. The related concept of succinctness is the opposite of verbosity.
Concision means being economical with words, expressing what needs to be said in just the right words. That may involve removing redundant or unnecessary phrases or replacing them with shorter ones. It is described in The Elements of Style by Strunk and White as follows:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.— Elementary Principles of Composition, The Elements of Style
Concision has also been described as "eliminat[ing] words that take up space without saying much." Simple examples include replacing "due to the fact that [sic]" with "because" or "at this point in time" with "now" or "currently."
An example sentence, with explanation:
"It is a fact that most arguments must try to convince readers, that is the audience, that the arguments are true." Notice the beginning of the sentence: "it is a fact that" doesn't say much; if something is a fact, just present it. So begin the sentence with "most arguments..." and turn to the next bit of overlap. Look at "readers, that is the audience"; the redundancy can be reduced to "readers" or "audience." Now we have "Most arguments must try to convince readers that the arguments are true." Let's get rid of one of the "arguments" to produce "Most arguments must demonstrate (their) truth to readers," or a similarly straightforward expression.
The following example is taken from:
The author of the poem illustrated various differences between the characters. The poem, which was a romantic poem, showed that each individual character was sort of devious in the way in which he or she did things and behaved. The two characters in the poem, who were named Jim and Dwight, were never definitely and completely honest with each other, which led to the final outcome of them being unhappy. This outcome, which was undesirable, is designed in a way to show the readers just exactly how the author feels about lying and deceit.
The source suggests this replacement:
The romantic poem showed that its characters were devious. Jim and Dwight, the poem’s two characters, were never honest with each other and ended up unhappy. This undesirable outcome shows the readers how the author feels about lying.
In the second quote, the same information is communicated in less than half the length. However, it could be more concisely rewritten and communicate the same information:
The romantic poem’s characters, Jim and Dwight, were dishonest with each other and ended up unhappy, showing the author's feelings about lying.
Teaching concise expression
Concise expression, particularly in writing, is considered one of the basic goals of teaching the English language. Techniques to achieve concise writing are taught for students at all levels, from the introduction to writing to the preparation of PhD dissertations, and legal writing for law students.
It has been argued that although "in expository prose English places a high value on conciseness... [t]he value placed on conciseness... is not shared by all cultures", with, for example, the Thai culture as one where redundancy is prized as an opportunity to use additional words to demonstrate the writer's command of the language. This may lead to a tendency for people from those cultures to use repetitive or redundant phrasing when learning English.
The related concept of succinctness is a characteristic of speech, writing, data structure, algorithmic games, and thought in general, exhibiting both clarity and brevity. It is the opposite of verbosity, in which there is an excess of words.
- Purposeful omission • Iceberg Theory • Show, don't tell
- Casuistry • Case-based reasoning • Abductive reasoning
- I know it when I see it
- Mental reservation
- William Strunk (1918). The Elements of Style.
- "What is Concision?" Accessed February 4, 2017. Link.
- Program for Writing and Rhetoric, University of Colorado at Boulder. "Writing Tip #27: Revising for Concision and Clarity." Accessed June 19, 2012. Link.
- UNT Writing Lab. "Concision, Clarity, and Cohesion." Accessed June 19, 2012. Link.
- Sandy Buczynski, Kristin Fontichiaro, Story Starters and Science Notebooking: Developing Student Thinking Through Literacy and Inquiry (2009), p. 7, ISBN 1591586860.
- Patrick Dunleavy, Authoring a PhD: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Thesis or Disseration (2003), p. 273, ISBN 023036800X.
- Legal Writing Institute, Legal Writing: The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute (2002), Vol. 7, p. 32.
- Mark Newell Brock, Larry Walters, Teaching Composition Around the Pacific Rim: Politics and Pedagogy (1992), p. 4-5, ISBN 1853591602.
- Garner, Bryan A. (2009). Garner on Language and Writing: Selected Essays and Speeches of Bryan A. Garner. Chicago: American Bar Association. p. 295. ISBN 1-60442-445-1.
- Leslie Kurke, Aesopic Conversations: Popular Tradition, Cultural Dialogue, and the Invention of Greek Prose, Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 131–2, 135.
- Jacobson, G. J (1988). Succinct static data structures.
- Papadimitriou, C.H. (2007). "The Complexity of Finding Nash Equilibria". In Nisan, Noam; Roughgarden, Tim; Tardos, Éva; et al. Algorithmic Game Theory. Cambridge University Press. pp. 29–52. ISBN 978-0-521-87282-9.
- Ariew, Roger (1976). Ockham's Razor: A Historical and Philosophical Analysis of Ockham's Principle of Parsimony. Champaign-Urbana, University of Illinois.
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