In this technological industry, proof reading seems to have become a thing of the past. Everyone is pressed for time and always on a device of some sort.
With the advances of technology, we are operating at a much faster, almost unnatural speed and doing more than one thing at once (i.e. Checking email from our phone at a stop light, having an in-person conversation while texting at the same time). We are hit with text slang “LOLs” and “Oops, darn autocorrect…I meant [fill in the blank]” on a regular, if not daily basis. Because of the quick-reply of technology, these mistakes are generally overlooked and in most cases completely ignored.
It’s not surprising that this issue has crossed over into the professional career realm affecting employees and employers, especially those who do contract work or run their own small business. As an example, a friend recently referred me to a financial advisor. She suggested I text him to set up an appointment. Five texts later, and who knows how many misspelled words and lopped off sentences, we arranged a meeting time. All of our communication had been via text message and it felt normal for the circumstances.
How does this technology trend affect your legal writing or professional writing career as a freelancer? The people who hire you obviously do not have the time to do the work themselves; therefore it may be safe to assume they do not have time to thoroughly read a document that covers more than the basics necessary for them to get their job done. They have hired you to sift through the muck and produce the fine points in as concise a manner as possible so they can get their job done quickly.
It’s called “skimming.” Those who hire you should be able to scan the document within a few minutes and know that you’ve done the quality job you were hired to do and produced the information they wanted without using technological shortcuts or text slang.
How do you make it concise enough for them to “skim” for approval, and yet hit the major points they need you to cover without dragging the document into the double digits [10 or more pages]?
Here are a few steps to help make your writing more concise without sacrificing content.
- Avoid wordiness at the sentence level by eliminating unnecessary qualifiers and redundant pairs
You often can eliminate one or two words in a sentence by removing unnecessary qualifiers and adverbs such as: actually, really, basically, probably, very, definitely, somewhat, kind of, extremely, and practically. If you see one of these words in your sentence, double check the meaning and see if the word is still necessary for the point you are making.
A redundant pair is when the first word in a pair has roughly the same meaning as the second. Examples: full and complete; each and every; hopes and dreams; whole entire; first and foremost; true and accurate; always and forever.
2. Replace an entire phrase with one word
The most common over used phrase in my law school writing career was “in order to” which easily can be replaced with “to.” Two more common and wordy phrases, “In the event that,” and “Under circumstances in which” can be replaced with “if.”
Common phrases that can be replaced with single words include: The reason for; due to the fact that; in light of the fact that; given the fact that; and considering the fact that, can all be replaced with because, since, or why.
3. Stress Syntax
Syntax is the order in which words are placed in a sentence. According to George Gopen, word location is the most important tool to master. In his article, The Importance of Stress: Indicating the Most Important Words in a Sentence, he says that one should not focus on making sentences shorter, rather “To make a sentence as good as it can be, make sure that the information you wish the reader to stress always appears in a stress position – next to a period, colon, or semicolon.”
For more information on writing well, take a look at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Writing Center handout on Writing Concisely.