Most readers do not necessarily want to slog through paragraphs containing around-about writing leading, finally after three pages, to the point. I don’t know many writers who want their readers to do that, but sometimes our writing can get long and drawn out. Writing efficiently is critical in just about every type of writing – fiction, scholarly, non-fiction, even memoirs, but especially reports and proposals.

Writing Efficiency Keys

Concept Clarity

The keys to writing efficiently include clarity and writing as a writer, not as a conversationalist. First and foremost is clarity. Writers need to have a vision of why they are writing, the breadth of what they want to say, and at least a concept of how they will get there. One of my techniques for making sure I have a vision is to actually describe (in writing) why I am writing a specific piece as well as who my audience is. If I’m unable to say for whom I want to write, specifically, then I’m going to have a hard time writing what needs to be said. An audience that is too general is tougher to write for than one that is too constricted.

For example, if my audience is a provider funding programs to assist mentally ill homeless people, I will write specifically in terms the provider will understand. Among other things, I will explain to the provider exactly how I will locate the population of mentally ill homeless people I intend to help. I will spell out the characteristics of the program. I need to ensure the provider his or her money will be used efficiently and appropriately.

With concept clarity comes concise writing. The following passage has definite efficiency issues:

You’ll write down everything you can think of that pertains to the topic or the question that you’re looking to answer. Then what you do is, you go on to something else. So again, in the first pass, you just write everything that you can think of, then you go on to something else.

As you can see, the last sentence is simply repeating the previous two sentences. Most writing does not need that much repetition. The passage also has word and sentence efficiency problems, which I discuss in the second section.

Another example of a lack of concept clarity follows:

She glances casually around the restaurant. Nonchalant is the word of the day. This is a blind date and blind dates are for other women… not her. She’s not just ‘stuck-up’… she’s stuck-up with super glue.

This paragraph, the first of a story, jumps through three concepts without really telling us anything about what we are going to read. Sometimes we may begin to write just to get writing and ideas to come out, but as we keep writing, the real clarity begins. It is important to watch for that in the revision process.

Sentence Clarity

Along with concept clarity, as described above, are word and sentence clarity. Many writers write conversationally, or how they speak. It can be easy to do if one is just beginning a project or hasn’t written formally for a while. Also, conversational writing is a little more acceptable in the fiction world. However, the suggestions in this section apply to fiction as well.

What do I mean by conversationally? When we talk, we often use excess words because they’re just flowing as we speak. I consider the following words or phrases overused and mostly extraneous (there are always exceptions)

that           that is      that was     that are  (and other variations)
which        which is   which are
there are   there is  (passive)
who are     who is
in order

In this section, the red sentence utilizes one or more of the above words/phrases marked in yellow. Below it, in blue, I have the sentence without it/them.

Some may have a definition or meaning that is unique to the field of inclusive education.
Some may have a definition or meaning unique to the field of inclusive education.

kept in facilities that were run in a prison-like setting.
kept in facilities run in a prison-like setting.

stigmas of being different in school, and this is compounded when students are removed from the general education setting.
stigmas of being different in school, compounded when students are removed from the general education setting.

Silverman identified three major factors which are necessary in order for teachers to have a positive attitude about inclusion.
Silverman identified three major factors necessary for teachers to have a positive attitude about inclusion.

The blue sentences should sound tighter and more clear than the red ones. My rule for whether any of the words or phrases do not belong in a sentence is whether it sounds fine without it/them. In the majority of cases, the words/phrases I’ve identified as overused and conversational and do not need to be written.