Exercise Revise for Conciseness

Gloria, an administrative assistant in a silk flower company, said, "My boss sends out proposals to hotel executives. Her ideas are good, but she's wordy. I always have to revise her writing, but it's important that I preserve her meaning."

Read the following paragraph from one of the proposals Gloria needs to revise, and rewrite it so that it's clear, focused, and appropriately short.

As the leader in the silk flower industry, we create arrangements that are lush and full and always custom designed, featuring seasonal blossoms in an array of colors to create just the look you seek whether the occasion is a wedding, reunion, business meeting or conference, or other event. We guarantee that every arrangement will be designed to your specifications, and we promise that our custom designs will be delivered on time and at or below budget. (Two sentences of forty-nine and twenty-eight words average thirty-eight-and-a-half words per sentence—too long.)

How did you approach this exercise? Did you first look to see if one of the two sentences was a compound sentence? Often, that's the easiest way to begin revising long or complicated sentences.

In this example, the second sentence is compound; two independent clauses are connected with the BOY'S FAN word and. Breaking the clauses into two separate units might be a good start to the revision.

We guarantee that every arrangement will be designed to your specifications. We promise that our custom designs will be delivered on time and at or below budget. (Two sentences of eleven and sixteen words average thirteen-and-a-half words per sentence.)

Note that each sentence is stronger than was the one, longer sentence. Now that you see them one after another, however, do you notice the redundant structure? The first begins, "We guarantee." The second begins, "We promise." Given the similarity, it might be better to combine them.

We guarantee that every arrangement will be custom designed to your specifications, delivered on time, and at or below budget. (twenty words)

Can you hear how much more powerful this one sentence is? What about the first sentence? Note that it's not compound; it's complicated. Useful details are provided, but too much information is given all at once.

As the leader in the silk flower industry, we create arrangements that are lush and full and always custom-designed, featuring seasonal blossoms in an array of colors to create just the look you seek whether the occasion is a wedding, reunion, business meeting or conference, or other event. (forty-nine words)

When revising a complicated sentence, it's often a good approach to list all of the thoughts being expressed and aim to create separate sentences.

How many thoughts are expressed in this example? Four: the look of the flowers, the custom preparation, the contents of the arrangements, and the occasions the company serves.

Most people, in revising this sentence, combine the first two thoughts and write a twenty-word sentence, as follows:

As the leader in the silk flower industry, we create arrangements that are lush and full and always custom designed.

You could have stopped sooner, expressing only one thought. This approach would create a sixteen-word sentence:

As the leader in the silk flower industry, we create arrangements that are lush and full.

Continuing on, you could have revised the second thought expressed in the sentence as a five-word sentence:

Every arrangement is custom designed.

The next thought might be expressed as follows:

All arrangements feature seasonal blossoms in an array of colors to create just the look you seek. (seventeen words)

The final thought might become:

Our flowers will be perfect, whether the occasion is a wedding, reunion, business meeting or conference, or other event. (nineteen words)

Let's evaluate the total revision:

As the leader in the silk flower industry, we create arrangements that are lush and full and always custom designed. All arrangements feature seasonal blossoms in an array of colors to create just the look you seek. Our flowers will be perfect, whether the occasion is a wedding, reunion, business meeting or conference, or other event. We guarantee that every arrangement will be custom designed to your specifications, delivered on time, and at or below budget. (Four sentences totaling seventy-six words [20 + 17 + 19 + 20 = 76] average nineteen words per sentence.)

Gloria explains, "Knowing to look first for a compound sentence and then for a complicated sentence made revising much easier. I like having a model that provides specific steps."

No matter how you revised this example, ask yourself if you made it more concise. Did you shorten sentences while preserving the author's intention? Did you convey needed information?

Remember, when shortening sentences, use as many words as you need to make your points, but no more.

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