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How to write brief and concise copy

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SmallBusiness.com How-tos are step-by-step instructions for specific small business tasks. They are created and edited by readers like you. You can help edit this How-to or you can create your own. Find more How-tos at the SmallBusiness.com How-to Hub.


The Elements Of Style[1] by Strunk and White (sometimes called merely "Strunk & White") is a must-have for anyone who wishes to write. The elements of Style gives the principle requirements of plain English style and concentrates attention on the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated. Its imperative that all who write articles on SmallBusiness.com and the internet in general read this book and heed its warnings! Here are three principles from the Elements of Style.[2]

Use a dash the rightway

“A dash is a mark of seperation stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon, and more relaxed than a parentheses.” Use a dash for an abrupt break or interruption and to announce a long summary:

  • Google’s inside business view--one of the newest features of Google Maps--has given small businesses more business than ever before.
  • The small farmers market sold different types of produce--cabbage, carrots, fresh artichoke and butternut squash.

Use a dash only when more common punctuation marks seem inadequate:

  • I never realized the answer was so simple, 2 +2=4
  • I never realized the answer was so simple--2+2=4

Do not construct awkward adverbs

Adverbs make everything descriptive. Take an adjective or participle (tired), add -ly and you have an adverb (tiredly). Tiredly may be descriptive but it’s also awkward because no one actually says it. Avoid using adverbs, though they may provide more description, they often complicate sentences.

  • over > overly
  • tangled > tangledly
  • skeptical > skeptically
  • confuse > confusedly

Omit Needless Words

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words for the same reason a machine should have no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short but that every word tell.”

Here are a list of commonly used expressions that violate the rule:

  • The question as to whether < whether
  • there is no doubt but that < no doubt (doubtless)
  • he is a man who < He
  • this is a subject that < this subject
  • This story sure is a strange one < This story is strange
  • the reason why that is < because

Avoid using the phrase “the fact that”. It can be taken out of almost all sentences which include it.

  • in spite of the fact that < though (although)


Write a sentence if a special warning is needed. If you need bullet points add them also:

  • Bullet point
  • Bullet points

See also


  1. Wikipedia "Elements of Style". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elements_of_StyleWikipedia. 
  2. Elements of Style |url=[http://www.bartleby.com/141/ The Elements of Style Bartleby

External links