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Becoming a Better Writer: Writing Concisely

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Becoming a Better Writer: Writing Concisely

[Examples and ideas come from William Brohaugh’s book, Write Tight, published in 1993 by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio.]
Avoid Redundant Phrases and Repeating Yourself (): [P. 185-188]
More additions, absolutely certain/essential/necessary, added bonus, add up, advance forward, all done, alternative choice, a.m. in the morning, and also, annual birthday, baby puppy/kitten, blended together, brief moment, but however, close down, combined together, continue on, deliberate lie, empty space, end result, exact match, extra bonus, fall down, fatal suicide, first discovered, foot pedal, forecast the future, foreign imports, free gift, general public, interpret to mean, large-sized, later on, major breakthrough, map out, may/might possibly, mental telepathy, natural instinct, necessary requirement, never before, new beginning, new record, old antique, orbiting satellite, pair of twins, past achievement/experience/performance, physically located, plan ahead, p.m. in the evening, possible candidate, preliminary draft, proceed ahead, raise up, refer back, repeat over, rise up, same identical, separate individual, stack together, stand up, switch over, tiny particle, true facts, unexpected surprise, violent explosion, visible to the eye, weather conditions, while at the same time, wink an eye, x-ray photograph, young child/puppy/kitten

Loose, Wordy Writing

Concise Writing [Preferred]

A small number of people

Three people

Appear on the scene


In back of


Backwards, forwards

Backward, forward

There is a plan on the table.

A plan is on the table.

I’m amazed by the fact that you took the last cookie.

I’m amazed that you took the last cookie.

For this exam, you need to use a pencil.

For this exam, you need a pencil.

1955 A.D.


It was doubtful whether or not he would participate.

It was doubtful whether he would participate.

Avoid quotes unless you “really” need them.

Avoid quotes unless you really need them.

In order to get the job done, keep at it.

To get the job done, keep at it.

I left work at 5:30. Later, when I unlocked the front door at home…

I left work at 5:30. When I unlocked the front door, ….

Thanks” and Bobby was slamming the screen doors and pedaling off to the grocery store.

Thanks.” Bobby slammed the screen door and pedaled off to the grocery store.

A new shopping center will be build this summer.

A shopping center will be built this summer.

The book devotes an entire chapter to…

The book devotes a chapter to…

His whole speech bothered me.

His speech bothered me.

John Wilkes Booth was the person who shot President Lincoln.

John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln.

The situation still remains the same.

The situation remains the same.

To Practice: Write ten sentences that are wordy, then write their concise versions.

Alternative Summary Formats

Correspondence Museum Map and Tour Guides Oral Histories

Books Magazines Radio Plays

Newspapers Scripts Historical Fiction

Commercials Picture Books Journal/Diaries

Science Fiction Mystery Stories Romances

Poetry Autobiographies/Biographies Animal Stories

How-to Books Alphabet books Pop-up Books

Field Guides Mini-textbooks Friendly Letters

Bulletin Boards Choose-Your-0wn Adventures Timelines

Murals Coloring Books Calendars

Annotated Catalogs Travel Brochures Manuals

Games Recipes Personal narratives

Folktales/legends/myths Information Reports Persuasive essays

Book/Movie Critiques Wills Yellow pages

Weather forecasts Wanted posters Vitas/resumes

Satire/spoofs Speeches Songs/raps

CD covers Soap operas Slogans

Sermons Sequels/prequels Schedules

Lab instructions Protest letters Post cards

Pamphlets Flipbooks Odes

Requiems Rebuttals Play programs

Travel posters Movie posters Thank yous

Interviews Telegrams Sports accounts

Scary stories Quizzes/tests Rubrics

Surveys Monologues Jokes/riddles

Menus Metaphors Job applications

Indexes Headlines Grocery lists

Graffiti Comic strips Constitutions

Contracts Conversations Spreadsheets

Definitions Epilogues Evaluations

Fortunes Comparisons Character sketches

Certificates Cereal boxes Captions

Bumper stickers Advice columns Epithets

Codes Informal/formal observation Musical score

True or False Book Cookbook Wedding vows

Almanac Inauguration speech

Annotated Family Tree
Action Words to Jump-Start Great Writings

Analyze… Summarize…

Explain… Construct…

Decide between… Argue against…

Why did… Argue for…

Compare… Examine…

Contrast… Modify…

Identify… Plan…

Classify… Critique…

Define… Evaluate…

Retell… Organize…

Interpret… Interview…

Expand… Find support for…

Predict… Develop…

Paraphrase… Categorize…

Show… Criticize…

Simplify… Deduce…

Infer… Outline…

Formulate… Blend…

Suppose… Revise…

Invent… Imagine…

Devise… Compose…

Combine… Rank…

Recommend… Defend…

Justify… Describe…

Choose… Assess…

Create… Write…


  • Blend the two concepts into one unifying idea.

  • Compose a ballad about the cautious Massasoit tribe coming to dinner with Governor Bradford and his colony in 1621.

  • Interpret the Internet for Amazonian inhabitants that have never lived with electricity, let alone a computer.

  • Argue for and against Democracy as a healthy way to build a country – Provide at least two arguments for each position.

  • Classify the Greek gods and goddesses according to three different criteria.

  • Predict the limiting factors for this habitat twenty-five years from now.

  • Retell a fairytale of your choosing with one of the following concepts as its central theme: Making healthy decisions, Teamwork, Take positive risks, If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem.

More Motivating and Substantive Writing Ideas

Rap Song

Ask students to write a rap song incorporating accurate content from the lesson. The word play and rhythm serve as mnemonics for retaining the information when it is performed. The most effective learning, however, occurs in the song’s creation. Students have to manipulate the words into rhymes and beats that are accurate to the topic and subject. As they say the phrases over and over, they memorize the facts. In addition, when students can follow a beat, they can remember long passages that would rival Homer’s Iliad. During tests, they can recall the words to the rap and the facts will pour forth. Here’s what one student wrote about the alkali metals in the Periodic Table of Elements:

You know I don’t lie, I said, al-ka-li.

You ask me why, here I say al-ka-li.

They’re metal with the mettle, they go into action,

they’re soft and white with volatile reaction.

You know I don’t lie, I said, al-ka-li.

You ask me why, here I say al-ka-li.

Quick with temper, high velocity,

Watch the low melting and density.

They’re al-ka-li, they’re al-ka-li.

Like Hansel and Gretal, it’s alkali metal,

Soft and white with a volatile reaction

Soft and white with a quick infraction

They’re Hansel and Gretal, alkali metal,

1, 3, 11, 19, 37, 55, 87

Numbers to alkali heaven

Their al-ka-li, they’re al-ka-li

They’re brothers and sisters, be careful you see’em:

There’s lithium, sodium, potassium, rubidium,

cesium and francium. Man, you’ve had enough of them.

Say, al-ka-li, give it a try,

Say al-al-ka-li, al-al-ka-li.”

Web site:
Ask students to design their own Internet site based on the topic. Students must present all information accurately on the site, and they must make it interactive so visitors can learn as well.

R = Role, A = Audience, F = Form, T = Time or Topic

Student to take on a role, work for a specific audience, use a particular form to express the content, and do it within a time reference, such as pre-Civil War, 2025, or ancient Greece. An example assignment might be a candidate for the Green Party (role), trying to convince election board members (audience) to let him be in a national debate with Democrats and the Republicans. The student writes a speech (form) to give to the Board during the Presidential election in 2004 (time). Within this assignment, students use arguments and information from this past election with third party concerns, as well as their knowledge of the election and debate process. Another student could be given a RAFT assignment in the same manner, but this time the student is a member of the election board who has just listened to the first student’s speech.

RAFT assignments are fairly easy to put together. Consider a variety of people associated with the content (roles), a variety of people for whom or to whom the students are to communicate in those roles (audience), multiple ways in which to communicate the content (form), and a variety of settings (time). Once you have a list of each, mix and match, looking for combinations that suggest interesting and substantive interactions. After a while, of course, it’s great to let students create their own RAFT assignments based on the content. Here’s an example RAFT list that took me about ten minutes to generate. These ideas are applicable to general subjects, not a specific subject:

Roles Audience Formats Time

scuba diver Coast Guard court testimony modern day

ballet dancer patrol board Advice column 2010

comic strip character PTA scale model 1950

Aborigine principal autobiography post-war Vietnam

coach parents bookmark pre-CivilWar

zoologist young adolescents constitution Potato famine

teacher nursing home CD cover 1969

mayor doctors Invitation 2200

archeologist zoo visitors Lyrics while swimming

dotcom CEO Thomas Edison Hieroglyphics while downsizing

soldier ancient Sumerians Field guide at graduation

disenfranchised citizen sharecroppers Jigsaw puzzle on a field trip

custodian manager of Pizza Hut Ship’s log school board mtg.

NSYNC (boy band) museum curator Monument late at night

journalist radio listeners Deck of cards during a storm

mother of sick child kindergarteners Newscast the Renaissance

judge shoppers Sculpture Industrial


Have students produce a love story between two geometric shapes, incorporating all attributes of each. Students can also write about math discoveries that changed the world. Let them draft a proposal to the city council for a bridge structure and explain why they believe it would be the sturdiest and most cost-efficient option. How about a speech advocating the value of math in today’s society? Math is a writing-friendly subject. Once you get started, it easy to summarize creatively:

  • A paragraph about what the world would be like without numbers

  • A report on the geometry of a basketball court

  • A story about an underwater or lunar colony in which all architecture reflects three-dimensional solids. Students can write building descriptions, folktales, a constitution, and a travel brochure, all emphasizing math concepts in the colony. A sample set of directions for this activity is included in the appendix.

  • A summary of cash transactions for a business over ten years and advice for the business owner based on the data.

  • Directions for solving a problem

  • A “Dear Abby” column for math-phobic students

  • An autobiography of a right angle

  • Jump rope rhymes

  • A math dictionary

  • A consumer letter of complaint

  • A math autobiography (a student’s experiences with math over time)

  • Make a schedule of ____________
  • Publish a math newspaper or magazine with the latest from the world of math in your classroom. If you choose a newspaper, students can write for different sections, incorporating facts into each. Imagine the sad letter to advice columnist Jane Scalene, the play-by-play sports column about last night’s slope and y-intercept game –-- was that rise-over-run a legal move? Not to mention the front-page stories about the possible corruption of number theory by irrational numbers, or an editorial about the confusion over Celsius and Fahrenheit temperatures.


  • Write autobiographies to go with portraits

  • Sculpt with clay while using writing process terms

  • Explain how the feelings evoked by a particular painting or photograph can be created through the written word

  • Answer the question: “If a picture could talk, what would it say?”

  • Develop synthesis writings: “What does blue sound like?” “Describe red through other senses and experiences not associated with what we can see.”

  • Explain what a particular piece of art tells us about a particular time period


  • Write the life story of a ____________

  • Make up a tongue twister about ____________

  • Write the instructions for ______________

  • Write a consumer’s guide to _____________

  • Write a myth that reveals the origin of ______________

  • Create a science calendar in which the picture for each month conveys ________________

  • Write a science fiction story that cleverly uses the following information ________________

  • Examine a common science misconception, how it is perpetuated, and what can be done to correct it

  • Explain why another student obtained certain lab results

  • Create a board game focusing on the basic steps of (insert science cycle or principle)

  • Research and write a report about a scientific discovery that changed the world

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