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Seeking Alpha Author Experience, March 10, 2016, #8 All-In The Presentation: Economizing Words (Part Two)


This is a republication of Rocco Pendola's original Seeking Alpha Author Experience installment.

In it, he returns to the subject of concise writing.

We will be posting the entire archive of Author Experience Installments on this blog -- follow me for updates each time one posts.

Editor's Note: This installment of the Seeking Alpha Author Experience was originally written by Rocco Pendola on March 10, 2016. Rocco deserves enormous credit for conceiving and refining the Author Experience, which has become a great resource for SA editors and writers alike.

For background on why we’re doing this, see installment #6 from March 8.

Consider this installment additional ammunition for your presentation arsenal. Implementing just one or two of the tweaks and techniques we have presented and will continue to present in The Seeking Alpha Author Experience can profoundly change the “look and feel” of your writing. It could be that I’m odd, but writing, as I read it, has less of a sound and more of a look and feel.

Anyhow, noodle on that while we get …

Deep In The Weeds, On The Ground

Consider this variation of a sentence we could reasonably expect to see in an otherwise solid Seeking Alpha article:    

The success Molson Coors had in executing against its strategy to sell multi-beer deals and to increase average transaction size ought to be the headlines of the quarter.

What if we tweak that sentence to read:

The success Molson Coors had executing its strategy to sell multi-beer deals and increase average transaction size should be the quarter’s headlines.

We removed an “in,” “against,” a “to,” changed “ought to” to “should” and flipped “headlines of the quarter” around to produce an albeit subtly more readable sentence. But, as noted in installment #6, doing this with multiple sentences in an article (and eventually making the less wordy way of writing a habit) has something considerably more than a subtle impact. I go so far as to call it profound.

And it’s really as simple as going through each sentence you write - as you write it, when you proofread or at both times - and asking yourself the question, Does this word need to be here? Or, put another way, which words do not need to be here? More often than not, shorter, crisper, less wordy sentences win. (We’ll delve deeper into this in future installments).

In this example, it’s pretty clear cut - “in” doesn’t need to be there. Say it out loud - “had in executing” versus “had executing.” Same goes for against. “To” needs to be there the first time, but we have a tendency to repeat “to” as part of a list of things. But having “to” before the first item of the list is typically all that’s necessary, grammatically, to form that part of the sentence. Why bother with additional words, especially if redundant, when you don’t have to?

“Should” gets a little more complicated, though not much. Phrases such as “ought to” can certainly fly, but this is more about varying your writing and using a more colorful word in place of two or more words that say the same thing, just not as economically, forcefully or creatively.

Speaking of being creative, I wasn’t so much here. Because “should” is just as boring as “ought to.” So here’s a better example to illustrate the suggested tweak:

IBM went ahead with its deal for the Weather Company despite criticism it received from skeptics.

IBM decided to buy the Weather Company despite criticism from skeptics.  

Or how about an even better example:

Apple brought a whole new line of Macs to the masses because it wanted to get people excited about its ability to innovate again.

Apple refreshed the Mac line to reignite excitement over its ability to innovate.  

Here’s the thinking behind those tweaks: When you “went ahead with” something, you “decided.” And the structure of the sentence as well as the context we presume accompanies the statement in the hypothetical article implies IBM received criticism from skeptics. So why not economize words there?

In the Apple example, “refreshed” flows quite obviously from “brought a whole new.” And “the masses” are unneeded. Who else is Apple selling its products to? Who are “the masses” anyway? Unless you’re writing about a certain group (e.g., hipsters, creative professionals, educators), an imprecise audience such as “the masses” tends toward using more words than necessary. And when you “reignite” something - say, a relationship - you have made it exciting again.

Here again, these are suggestions for another way to approach your writing. We’re not all going to take this stuff and run with it. But, to the extent you do, the potential exists to produce work that flows better, which, in theory, can make your analysis more accessible and impactful.

For as powerful as these and other tweaks and techniques can be, it’s never a good idea to stretch. We never want to waste time looking for a great verb to replace two or three words that effectively say the same thing. But if you find a spot to do that (or something else) once or twice a week, you will get better at it and eventually do it more frequently, until, who knows (?), one day it’s second nature and you have enhanced your writing skills and added new ones.

Up next on Friday, March 11 in installment #9: Article Breakdown: Convincing