Wikipedia:The Importance of Brevity

After some trouble with this in various "niche" articles, I decided to make some points about linguistic efficiency for the benefit of other editors.

The purpose of factual, encyclopedic writing is to impart useful information in an interesting and comprehensible way that uses as little of the reader's time as possible. Excessive verbiage annoys and delays readers, and may confuse them. There are various common phrases and syntax structures that use unnecessary words: these should be avoided unless they are definitely needed for disambiguation. Some examples include these:

  • "in order to" (use "to", or "so as to" if that would be unclear)
  • "for purposes of X" (use "for X purposes", "to achieve X", or even just "for X")
  • dependent clauses in "comma hugs" that could be placed at the beginning or end of the sentence without detracting from clarity
  • "in terms of Y" (use "regarding Y" or the adjective form of Y earlier in the sentence)
  • any redundant statement; this may seem obvious, but it is very easy to edit something and add information without noticing that the information is also somewhere else, change bad syntax without noticing a redundancy, et cetera
  • "any variety of" (use "any type of" or just "any")
  • multiple sentences with clauses (for completeness) that could be eliminated if the sentences were combined with a semicolon (the semicolon is often underused)
  • "as a result of Z, X"/"X occurred as a result of Z" (use "because of Z, X" or "due to Z, X", or even rephrase to "Z caused X")
  • "on the other hand" (use "however", "but", "yet", or (if feeling adventurous) "contrariwise")

Brevity should never overrule clarity or accuracy; however, a lack of brevity can interfere with clarity and render accuracy irrelevant. Upon finishing a piece of writing/editing, one should ask oneself: "Is there a shorter and clearer way to say this? Can I rearrange this and eliminate conjunctions or clauses? What does each word accomplish?"

I do not claim to be perfect about this, and frequently find unneeded words and phrases in my own writing later. This in some ways is good, as some variety in syntax keeps it engaging for the reader; however, brevity should be optimized somewhat in any nonfictional writing.