The big mistake you don’t want to make when applying for a job or pitching to a client

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Imagine that you’re a hiring manager and you’re sifting through a stack of resumes to find your next great hire. One application, in particular, catches your eye: the candidate has a pretty decent skill set for the job and worked at a few major brands in the past. But then you look at the opening line of the candidate’s cover letter and cringe; it’s clear that he copied and pasted from a previous letter and forgot to change the name of the brand he was applying to work for. Getting an employer’s or client’s name right may seem like a small detail, but making a mistake can be costly when you’re applying for a job or pitching to a client. Here’s why.

Why this mistake makes you look bad when applying for a job or pitching to a client

The chances are high that you’ll find at least one error in a one-page cover letter or multipage project proposal. After all, people are only human, and employers and clients understand this, right? Sort of, but put yourself in their shoes. If you’re hiring someone to represent your brand or provide an important service that you need, who do you want: someone who seems conscientious and focused on you or someone who sees you as just another cog on the assembly line? We’re willing to bet that you’d go with the first person.

Misspelling a name or forgetting to change it following a copy-and-paste job may not seem like a big deal, but it signals something important to the person you’re trying to impress. In particular, it tells them how much attention you’ve paid to them. It also says something about how much care you put into the work you do.

If you misspell or forget to update an employer’s or client’s name in a document, what does that say about the amount of time you put into learning about the brand and taking the time to respond to them thoughtfully? And what does it say about the amount of care you’ll put into your work on a regular day on the job or after you land the project (when you’re no longer trying to impress someone)?

Maybe the mistake really was just an honest error and you’re not normally the type to produce sloppy work. But your potential employer or client doesn’t necessarily know this, and a seemingly careless mistake may be enough to take you out of the running for a dream job or project.

Is it really a common mistake?

Getting an employer’s or client’s name right seems like a pretty straightforward task. So you may be wondering how many people could possibly end up making a mistake that seems so, well, stupid. In reality, it’s much more common than you would expect. We can’t tell you how many times in our former professional roles we received job cover letters or vendor proposals that butchered our employers’ names or missed them altogether.

Tips to avoid making the mistake in the first place

When you’re responding to several job applications or quickly drafting a proposal for a potential client, it’s easy for your fingers to move a bit too quickly over your keyboard. And without realizing it, you end up mistyping the employer’s name or forgetting to update the client name field. Don’t let a small slip of the finger keep you from getting your dream job or landing a client you’ve always wanted to work with.

To save yourself from making a deal-breaking mistake when you’re applying for a job or pitching to a client, never (and we mean NEVER) skimp on proofreading. Snuff out that voice in your head that’s telling you that you’ve already looked over the information in your cover letter or proposal. Would you roll out of bed and head to a networking event without fixing your hair or brushing your teeth? You wouldn’t, right? So don’t do the writing equivalent. Saving five minutes of your time isn’t worth making a costly mistake.

Your job application or proposal may be the only information decision makers get about you when you’re applying for a job or pitching to a client. Make your writing as polished as you’d want to be in person if you were attending an in-person interview or meeting.

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Need some tips to help your proofread like a pro? Check out our post on the top 7 proofreading strategies.
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Inpression Editing helps businesses, professionals, and students make the best impression possible on customers, investors, hiring managers, and admissions committees. We do this by providing copywriting, editing, and writing coaching services for website copy, blog posts, marketing materials, personal statements, and much more.

Located in Toronto, Canada, we provide all of our services in both Canadian and US English. Get an instant quote here.


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What’s the difference between “peak,” “peek,” and “pique”?

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Today, we’ve got something for you that’s especially tricky (or enlightening, depending on whether you’re a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” kind of person). In most of our previous posts on commonly misused words, we talk about the difference between two words that are similar in some sort of way. However, in some cases, we’re faced with three words that are hard to tell apart. One of these cases is when we’re talking about the difference between “peak,” “peek,” and “pique.”

Why is it so hard to figure out the difference between “peak,” “peek,” and “pique”? Because these words are homonyms – they sound the same but mean different things. They also don’t look very different, especially “peak” vs. “peek.” That’s why even when you know what they mean, it isn’t always easy to remember the difference between “peak,” “peek,” and “pique.”

To help you set the record about these three words straight, we’re going to use this post to talk about the difference between “peak,” “peek,” and “pique.” We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get started.

What does “peak” mean?

“Peak” is most well known for being a noun that describes the top of a mountain. You would use it in sentences like these:

  • “Angelo looked across the valley at the snowy mountain peaks.”
  • “Talia was so desperate to capture the snowy peaks in her selfie that she dropped her phone into the lake.”
  • “Their office window looks out toward the snowy peaks.” (Lucky them!)

Although you may be used to thinking of “peak” as a noun, it’s also a verb and an adjective. This word really gets around, doesn’t it?

When it’s used as a verb, “peak” means “to reach a maximum value” or “to come to a point.” You would use it in sentences like this:

  • “Darko peaked as an athlete at the age of 19.”
  • “Traffic on our website peaked in 2014.”
  • “Amelia hopes that her profits haven’t already peaked for the year.”

And when it’s used as an adjective, “peak” means “the highest point or level.” Here’s how you would use it in a sentence:

  • “She’s functioning at her peak performance level.”
  • “I usually avoid driving during peak rush hour.”
  • “Transit fares are higher during peak travel times.”

What does “peek” mean?

So now you know what “peak” means, but how does it differ from “peek”?

Most people know “peek” as a verb that describes how someone might look out at something secretly. You would use it in sentences like these:

  • “She peeked out the window to see if the guest of honour had arrived at the surprise party.”
  • “He peeked through the peephole to see if anyone was standing outside the front door.”
  • “They hid behind the bushes and peeked through the leaves.”

“Peek” isn’t just a verb, though. It does double duty and functions as a noun too.

As a noun, “peek” refers to “a furtive look.” It’s the thing you do when you look out at something secretly or discretely. Here’s how you would use it in a sentence:

  • “Take a peek out the window.”
  • “Wait here; I’m going to take a peek at the hallway.”
  • “I haven’t finished your makeup yet, but I’ll let you take a quick peek.”

What does “pique” mean?

And last but not least, we have “pique.” We usually think of “pique” as a verb that means “to raise someone’s interest or curiosity” or “to make someone angry.” If you wanted to use it in a sentence, you would do it like this:

  • “The photos in the article piqued my interest as I was flipping through the magazine.”
  • “The mistake in the document really piqued me.”
  • “We need to come up with a strategy that will pique people’s interest.”

Summary of the difference between “peak,” “peek,” and “pique”

The next time that you’re wondering what the difference between “peak,” “peek,” and “pique” is, remember this: these words may look and sound similar, but they mean different things. “Peak” usually has something to do with a “high point” (whether it’s physical or metaphorical). “Peek” usually has something to do with looking at something discretely. And “pique” usually refers to triggering an emotional response in someone.

You can remember the difference between “peak” and “peek” (the two that you’re probably most likely to confuse) with this trick: When you’re playing hide and seek, you might peek out from your hiding spot to find out how close the seeker is to finding you.

If you have any good tips for remembering the difference between “peak,” “peek,” and “pique,” leave us a note in our comments section below.

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Want to read about other commonly confused words? Check out our post on the difference between “capital” and “capitol.”

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Need to make a good impression with your website copy, blog posts, or reports? We can help. Get an instant quote here.

Inpression Editing | Online editing, copywriting, and coaching | www.inpression.io


How to write concise sentences and paragraphs

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Do you have a habit of rambling, not just when you speak but also when you write? Maybe you know you need to learn how to write concise sentences and paragraphs but just don’t know how. Or maybe you’re a wordy writer and aren’t aware of it. Whatever your blind spot is, we’ve got a tip that will help you get straight to the point with your web copy, blog posts, and reports. It’ll help you learn how to write concise sentences and paragraphs by cutting them in half (or almost in half).

How concise can you make your sentences and paragraphs?

Cutting a sentence or paragraph in half may sound like a radical move. And in some ways, it is. If you aim to cut a sentence exactly in half, you might not make it. But you’ll push yourself to get close. Remember that elementary school motivational poster, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”? It’s the same idea. When you’re thinking about how to write concise sentences and paragraphs, aim high.

When you start to trim your sentences and paragraphs, you’ll find that it’s relatively easy to do it, at least in the beginning. Why? Because we write wordy sentences. Especially when we’re trying to show someone that we have enough to say on a topic, we tend to add all sorts of extra words to our sentences. The result? Bloated sentences and paragraphs.

Get your sentences and paragraphs back into shape by cutting unnecessary phrases, removing filler words, and swapping long words for short ones. If you put these strategies into practice, you’ll be well on your way to learning how to write concise sentences and paragraphs. Don’t worry – it’s not that hard. We’re going to show you how to do it like a pro.

How to write concise sentences

The first step of learning how to write concise sentences and paragraphs is learning how to trim sentences. Let’s say that we’ve written the following sentence:

  • “The energy benefits of apples come from the type of substances that make up a big part of the matter in apples: vitamins and minerals.”

That’s a pretty wordy sentence, so let’s cut it down:

  •  “Apples provide an energy boost because they contain lots of vitamins and minerals.”

Is that better? This sentence isn’t quite half the length of the first one (13 words vs. 23), but it is a lot shorter. So how did we cut this sentence down? We removed all of the words and phrases that weren’t necessary:

  • We swapped the wordy noun phrases “the energy benefits of apples” for a short noun and an active verb (“apples provide an energy boost”)
  • We replaced an unnecessarily long chain of words (“come from the type of substances that make up a big part of the matter in”) with a shorter chain of words (“because they contain lots of”)

Of course, the words that you’ll remove from a particular sentence will depend on the words the original sentence contains. But a good rule of thumb is to identify the words that carry key pieces of meaning in a sentence and try to get rid of as many of the others as you can.

In the original sentence above, our keys words are “apples,” “energy,” and “vitamins and minerals.” This is what we get if we include just these words in the sentence:

  • “Apples energy vitamins and minerals.”

Remember, though, that we also want to express that apples increase energy levels because they contain lots of vitamins and minerals. This means we need to add words like “boost” and “lots of.” When we do that, we get this:

  • “Apples energy boost lots of vitamins and minerals.”

Once you’ve identified these key pieces, all you need to do is add in the minimum number of words to make your sentence clear and grammatical. Here’s how we would do this with our example sentence:

  • “Apples provide an energy boost because they contain lots of vitamins and minerals.”

See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?

How to write concise paragraphs

Now that you’re a pro at deconstructing and rewriting sentences, let’s do the same thing with paragraphs. Because paragraphs are made up of strings of sentences, you’re learning how to write concise paragraphs when you learn how to write concise sentences. However, there’s one extra trick you can learn when you’re working with full paragraphs. Let’s take a look at this example to see how this extra trick works:

  • “The energy benefits of apples come from the type of substances that make up a big part of the matter in apples: vitamins and minerals.” Vitamins and minerals have an impact on energy levels by providing the body with key components it needs to produce energy. Vitamins and minerals come in all different forms. If you eat foods that contain a lot of vitamins and minerals, you will feel as though you have a lot of energy.”

Whew! That’s one wordy paragraph. It’s not particularly long, but it contains a lot of words and phrases that it doesn’t really need. That’s why it’s so important to work through how to write concise sentences and paragraphs. Let’s see how we can make this particular paragraph more concise:

  • “Apples provide an energy boost because they contain lots of vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals increase energy levels by providing substances the body needs to produce energy. If you eat foods rich in vitamins and minerals, you will feel energized.”

Again, we didn’t cut the paragraph exactly in half, but we were able to shorten it substantially. How did we do it? We trimmed the first, second, and fourth sentences in the paragraph using the same technique we described above.

And that third sentence? We cut it out altogether – this is the extra trick we were talking about. The third sentence didn’t provide information that contributed to the paragraph, so we got rid of it. When you’re learning how to write concise sentences and paragraphs, you can’t be afraid to let words and full sentences go.

Bringing It All Together

Learning how to write concise sentences and paragraphs isn’t impossible. You just need to know a few techniques to help you get there. As the examples above show you, you can learn how to write concise sentences and paragraphs by always returning to this question: How can I express the same information with fewer words? Focus on the words that provide key meaning in the sentence and trim your paragraphs by leaving unnecessary words and sentences out. That’s all there is to it at the end of the day.

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Want more tips on how to write concise sentences and paragraphs? Check out our popular post on 16 tips for writing concisely and reducing your word count.
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Inpression Editing helps businesses, professionals, and students make the best impression possible on customers, investors, hiring managers, and admissions committees. We do this by providing copywriting, editing, and writing coaching services for website copy, blog posts, marketing materials, personal statements, and much more.

Located in Toronto, Canada, we provide all of our services in both Canadian and US English. Get an instant quote here.


7 words that make you sound less confident in emails

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If you’re like a lot of people, and especially a lot of women, you may have a tendency to be overly accommodating in emails. And this comes from a good place. You know that your thoughts can get lost in translation over email, and you want to make sure you don’t offend or anger anyone. But by being so careful and accommodating, are you holding yourself back from being seen as competent and credible? Before you push the “send” button on your next message, check out these 7 words that make you sound less confident in emails.

1. Just

You may be surprised to see this at the top of our list of words that make you sound less confident in emails. But if you take a look at the emails you’ve sent over the past week, you’ll probably see it popping up everywhere. For example, you may have used it to say something along these lines:

  • “I just wanted to check in about the status of the report.”
  • “I just wanted to ask you a quick question.”

The way “just” is used in these sentences may seem benign. But “just” is one of the key words that make you sound less confident in emails. Why? Because it minimizes the importance of your requests. Someone isn’t doing you a favour by letting you check in on the status of their work. You’re taking the appropriate steps to make sure that a key task gets completed. Own your requests like a boss instead of undermining them.

Alternatives you can use:

  • “Can you tell me the status of the report?”
  • “I have a quick question for you.”

2. Sorry

“Sorry” is also one of those words that make you sound less confident in emails. If “sorry” is one of your linguistic weapons of choice, you might use it like this:

  • “Sorry to bother you, but I wanted to check in about the status of the report.”
  • “Sorry, I have a meeting at 10 a.m. Can we do 11 a.m. instead?”

What’s the deal with “sorry”? “Sorry” is like “just” on steroids – it minimizes the importance of your requests and suggests that you’re inconveniencing someone by asking for something you need or by doing the very tasks you’re responsible for doing.

If you’re asking someone about the status of a report, it’s probably because it’s your job to make sure it gets done or to know when it will be done. And if you can’t attend a meeting because you already have one scheduled at the same time, it’s a legitimate reason to decline an invitation. You aren’t doing anything wrong, so don’t apologize.

And as The Muse writer Lily Herman says, “if you really did do something wrong, you should pick up the phone and say sorry like you mean it.”

Alternatives you can use:

  • “Can you tell me the status of the report?”
  • “I have a meeting at 10 a.m. Could we do 11 a.m. instead?”

3. Probably

You may use “probably” if you’re worried about committing to a request and then not being able to fulfill it. For example, you might use it like this:

  • “I can probably finish the graphics by noon.”
  • “We can probably send the final version to you by next Wednesday.”

Why is “probably” on this list of words that make you sound less confident in emails? Because it makes you seem unsure of your ability to get something done. If you’re a manager or client, do you want to know that someone can probably finish your new website on time or that someone can (without qualification) finish it on time? We’re betting you’d want the latter.

If you really are unsure of when you can have something done, confidently provide a timeline that’s more realistic. Don’t leave people hanging about when they’ll actually get what they need from you. Delete words that make you sound less confident in emails to show people that you have a handle on things.

Alternatives you can use:

  • “I can finish the graphics by noon.”
  • “We won’t be able to send you the final version next Wednesday, but we will send it to you by next Friday.”

4. I think

You may use “I think” to soften your suggestions and seem less “bossy.” For example, you might use it like this:

  • “I think we should send the website copy to a copyeditor.”
  • “I think we should retest the durability of the packaging.”

What’s the problem with “I think”? It’s one of the top words that make you sound less confident in emails because it undermines how valid your thoughts and ideas are. When you use “I think,” you’re giving people a chance to dismiss what you say. Remember, if someone really disagrees with you, they won’t need your help to tell you. Own your ideas by getting rid of one of the key words that make you sound less confident in emails.

Alternatives you can use:

  • “Let’s send the website copy to a copyeditor.”
  • “We should retest the durability of the packaging.”

5. I feel

“I feel” is the new “I think.” If you use it, you probably do so like this:

  • “I feel that we should send the website copy to a copyeditor.”
  • “I feel that we should retest the durability of the packaging.”

“I feel” falls into the category of words that make you sound less confident in emails because it undermines your thoughts and suggestions. When you use “I feel,” you’re allowing people to write off what you say as just a feeling you have.

Express your ideas with confidence by stripping your emails of “I feel” and saving these words for when you really are talking about your emotions. Avoid letting your need to be polite push you to use words that make you sound less confident in emails.

Alternatives you can use:

  • “Let’s send the website copy to a copyeditor.”
  • “We should retest the durability of the packaging.”

6. Does this make sense?

This is a bit of a tricky one, and one that you may use with good intentions. That’s why you may not see it as one of the words that make you sound less confident in emails. If you’re someone who likes to use this phrase, you may use it like this:

  • After providing a detailed description of a service: “Does this make sense?”
  • After explaining why a particular solution won’t work: “Does this make sense? Do you see the problem with this approach?”

Using “does this make sense” may seem like a good way to make sure that someone is following along. So why is this phrase on our list of words that make you sound less confident in emails? Because it can do one of two things. First, it can suggest that you don’t know how to explain things clearly. Second, it can imply that your reader isn’t smart enough to understand you. We’re betting you don’t want to convey either of these in your emails, so cut these words out.

Alternatives you can use:

  • After providing a detailed description of a service:  “Do you have any questions about this?”
  • After explaining why a particular solution won’t work: “Do you want additional info about this?”

7. I’m not an expert, but

If you’re discussing a topic that you’re not an expert on, it can be easy to start sentences with “I’m not an expert, but.” You may be especially likely to use it when you’re talking to someone who knows more about the topic than you do and you want to acknowledge the gaps in your knowledge. In a case like this, using words that make you sound less confident in emails may seem entirely appropriate.

For example, it may seem like a good idea to write sentences like these:

  • “I’m not an expert in medical technology, but we could frame this as….”
  • “I’m not an expert in using Twitter, but I’ve developed a strategy for us based on extensive research and the six-month course I took.”

Take a look at the second example in particular. The second part of the sentence (the words after “but”) make the writer sound like someone who has a good handle on how to use Twitter. After all, how many people on Twitter have taken a six-month course on it? But look at what happens once you tack “I’m not an expert, but” onto the beginning. It undermines everything that comes after it.

That’s why “I’m not an expert, but” are words that make you sound less confident in emails. Remove these words from your messages to make sure they don’t chip away at your credibility.

Alternatives you can use:

  • “We could frame this as….What do others think?”
  • “I’ve developed a strategy for us based on extensive research and the six-month course I took.”

Bringing It All Together

It may feel scary to remove these words from your emails. After all, they seem like the padding that softens the impact of your requests, suggestions, and idea.

But remember that your requests, suggestions, and ideas don’t need padding. You’re not doing anything wrong by expressing them, so don’t lead people to think that you are. Banish the words that make you sound less confident in emails, and position yourself as someone who has legitimate things to say. Because you do.

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Need some tips on boosting your confidence with clear writing? Download out our ebook “How to Write Clearly.”
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Inpression Editing helps businesses, professionals, and students make the best impression possible on customers, investors, hiring managers, and admissions committees. We do this by providing copywriting, editing, and writing coaching services for website copy, blog posts, marketing materials, personal statements, and much more.

Located in Toronto, Canada, we provide all of our services in both Canadian and US English. Get an instant quote here.


“Capital” vs. “capitol”: What’s the difference?

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US Election Day 2016 is getting awfully close. (We’re not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.) As this day inches toward the present, you may be seeing more and more media coverage (in both traditional and online outlets) about what’s going to happen in Washington, DC on November 8. In all of this talk, there’s something that may have you a tiny bit confused: why some people are using the word “capital” whereas others are using “capitol.” What’s the difference between “capital” vs. “capitol”?

The words “capital” (with an “a”) vs. “capitol” (with an “o”) look very similar – they differ by just one letter. Because of this, you may be wondering whether “capital” vs. “capitol” are just different ways of spelling the same word. After all, “color” vs. “colour” are different ways of spelling the same word (in different dialects of English). The same is true of “organize” vs. “organise.”

However, “capital” vs. “capitol” are different words with distinct meanings. (Of course. English wasn’t suddenly going to go easy on us, was it?). Because we do need to keep both words in our vocabularies, let’s sort out what they mean.

“Capital”

Let’s start with “capital” because it’s the word that most of you probably use more often. In everyday English, “capital” can mean 3 things: the place in a region where the government is located, financial property, or the uppercase version of a letter. We’ll break these down.

“Capital” as the geographical home of a government

When we use “capital” to refer to the geographical location of a government, we use it like this:

  • “The capital of Canada is Ottawa.”
  • “Washington, DC is the capital of the US.”
  • “Madrid is the capital of Spain.”

Regardless of whether a region is the home of a provincial, state, or national government, it can be called a “capital.”

Note that you can also use “capital” to refer to a place that’s well known for a particular product or service. For example, you could say that Paris is one of the fashion capitals of the world. Hello, Dior and Chanel!

“Capital” as financial property

“Capital” can also refer to money or other assets. When we use “capital” in this way, we use it in sentences like these:

  • “They’re trying to raise capital for their new company.”
  • “Tom lost all of the brand’s capital when he made some bad investment decisions.”
  • “We can use our remaining capital to cover our costs over the next year.”

When “capital” is used to refer to financial property, it’s usually used to refer to the assets held by a company instead of by a person. After all, when was the last time you were eavesdropping on someone’s conversation at Starbucks and heard the person talk about his or her personal capital? Probably never.

“Capital” as the uppercase version of a letter

This is probably the most straightforward meaning of capital. When we use “capital” to refer to letters, we use it like this:

  • “Look for the building with the capital letter “A” on it.”
  • “Please write in all capital letters when completing this form.”
  • “If you write emails in all capital letters, people might think you’re yelling at them.” (If you didn’t know this one, take note!)

“Capitol”

Okay, so we now know 3 different meanings of “capital.” So what’s the difference between “capital” vs. “capitol”? The meaning of “capitol” is related to the government definition of “capital.” A “capitol” (with an “o”) is a building where lawmakers (the legislative branch of a government) meet. We use it in sentences like these:

  • “The protestors marched angrily toward the capitol.”
  • “The capitol has undergone extensive renovations.”
  • “There is no air conditioning in the capitol, so at least one person faints each year.” (Yikes!)

Ever wonder why the home of the US Congress is called “Capitol Hill,” with capitol spelled with an “o”? It’s because Capitol Hill is where members of Congress (the country’s lawmakers) meet. It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?

Bringing It All Together

“Capital” vs. “capitol” may seem confusing because they look so similar. The good news, though, is that unless you work in politics, you’re probably going to use “capital” much more than you would use “capitol.” And because “capital” is the spelling you’re probably more familiar with, you’ll likely use the right word by default in most cases. So you may not have much of a “capital” vs. “capitol” problem on your hands after all.

Where things do get a bit confusing when it comes to “capital” vs. “capitol” is when you’re talking about politics. That’s because “capital” vs. “capitol” both refer to places where the government sits: “capital” is the overall region where the entire government at a particular level sits. “Capitol” is the building where the lawmakers sit.

You can remember the difference between “capital” vs. “capitol” in the political context by noting that “a” comes before “o.” (And let’s be honest – this means that “a” is kind of more important as a letter than “o” is.) That’s why “capital” (with an “a”) is the overall place where the entire government sits whereas “capitol” (with an “o”) is the specific building where just one branch of government sits.

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Want to read about other commonly confused words? Check out our post on the difference between “hone” and “home.”

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Need to make a good impression with your website copy, blog posts, or reports? We can help. Get an instant quote here.

Inpression Editing | Online editing, copywriting, and coaching | www.inpression.io

 


What “aggressive” means: Is being an aggressive brand or business professional a good thing?

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In business, people seem to love the word “aggressive.” You’ll hear people talk about how they network aggressively or how their sales team is aggressive. And when they say these things, they mean them in a positive way. But what are you really saying when you say that a person or way of doing business is “aggressive”? Are you unknowingly saying something that you don’t want to say? In this post, we’ll talk about what “aggressive” means in professional settings and why you may want to avoid using it in most cases.

What “aggressive” means

The most traditional way to use the word “aggressive” is to use it to describe someone who is ready to fight or is displaying aggression.

For example, the Merriam-Webster dictionary primarily defines “aggressive” like this: “ready and willing to fight, argue, etc; feeling or showing aggression.”

Similarly, the Oxford Dictionaries defines “aggressive” like this: “ready or likely to attack or confront; characterized by or resulting from aggression.”

Based on these definitions, you would usually use “aggressive” in sentences like these:

  • “Anik is an aggressive hockey player; he tends to have a lot of physical contact with other players.”
  • “Cynthia used to be quite aggressive as a child. We were always getting phone calls from her teachers.”
  • “Tom is an aggressive man. He’s been charged with committing armed robberies several times.”

As you can see, what “aggressive” means is something negative in each of these cases. After all, unless you’re getting ready to take part in an epic Game-of-Thrones-style battle, being ready to fight usually isn’t a good thing.

What “aggressive” means in business

Although we tend to think of “aggressive” as a negative trait, you don’t have to look far to see it used in the business world in a way that’s supposed to be positive. Just take a look at the headlines of these articles published by popular and respected brands:

3 Aggressive Sales Closing Tactics That Make Prospects Say “Yes” & When to Use Them” on HubSpot

Increased Aggressive Selling = Increased Sales” on Evan Carmichael

When Soft Selling Fails, Consider Using These 5 Aggressive Sales Strategies” on Business 2 Community

In these headlines, the authors use “aggressive” as a synonym for “rigorous.” And so, to some extent, we’re used to seeing “aggressive” used to describe someone who is driven and results-oriented (which are positive traits).

This “positive” way of using “aggressive” has even made its way into established dictionaries. Specifically, in addition to the definition we showed you above, the Merriam-Webster dictionary also defines “aggressive” like this: “using forceful methods to succeed or to do something.”

Similarly, the Oxford Dictionaries also defines “aggressive” like this: “behaving or done in a determined and forceful way.”

“Forceful” usually means something negative, but “succeed” and “determined” are usually positive words. And dictionaries are often dinosaurs when it comes to change, so doesn’t it mean something if even they now define “aggressive” as something that can be positive?

Do you really want to be an “aggressive” brand or professional?

Although “aggressive” may not be as unquestionably negative as it used to be, it still doesn’t have the best rap. Just think about the last time you had to interact with an “aggressive,” pushy salesperson, the kind who makes you feel like you’re the one who’s being rude when you resist his or her tactics. We’re shuddering just thinking about it.

And it’s not just some sort of vague thought in the back of our minds or a bad feeling in our stomachs that makes us think that what “aggressive” means is still pretty negative. Just as there are several articles and blog posts out there that frame “aggressive” as something positive, there are also lots that frame it as something negative. Here are just some examples:

Are You Assertive–or Aggressive?” on Inc.com

The Difference Between Strong Leaders And Aggressive Leaders” on Fast Company

Aggressive Marketing Won’t Win Customer Loyalty” on Entrepreneur

As these posts note, people still see a fine line between being “aggressive” and being “assertive” or “rigorous.”  Which side of the line do you want people to see you on?

At first, it may sound impressive to say that you’re the most aggressive company in your market, but is this really a good thing? Even if it’s not what you mean, will people wonder if you’re a ruthless dictator or a brand  that’s willing to do whatever it takes (no matter how shady) to succeed? The last thing you want to do is to make people run the other way.

Instead of describing your team or brand as “aggressive” think about whether “hardworking,” “enthusiastic,” “rigorous,” or “passionate” would do the trick instead. Don’t leave the door open for people to question your motives or integrity.

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Looking for some tips on finding the right language for your brand? Check out our post on brand voice.

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Need to make a good impression with your website copy, blog posts, or reports? We can help. Get an instant quote here.

Inpression Editing | Online editing, copywriting, and coaching | www.inpression.io

US presidential debate vocabulary lesson #2: Is “unproud” a word?

trump_unproud_blog

There’s a brand that’s getting a lot of web traffic these days because of the US presidential debates. And no, we’re not talking about fact checkers or Canadian real estate agents who are looking to lure disgruntled Americans across the border. It’s the Merriam-Webster dictionary. That’s right. This election is, indeed, good for someone – dictionary brands. During the second presidential debate, the Merriam-Webster dictionary found itself in the spotlight again when Google searches spiked for this question: Is “unproud” a word?

Why are people asking if “unproud” is a word?

During the second debate, Donald Trump used the word “unproud” to describe his feelings about using Twitter to criticize former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. In particular, he said this:

“Tweeting happens to be a modern day form of communication. I mean, you can like it or not like it. I have, between Facebook and Twitter, I have almost 25 million people. It’s a very effective way of communication. So you can put it down, but it is a very effective form of communication. “I’m not unproud of it, to be honest with you.”

Just like when Trump used the word “braggadocious” during the first debate, his use of “unproud” sparked a spike in Google searches for the word.

Although “unproud” might sound a bit more like a real word than “braggadocious” does, when was the last time you heard someone use it? We’re betting that, if anything, it was a long time ago.  After all, if we were to say that we’re the opposite of “proud” of something, wouldn’t we be more likely to say that we’re “not proud” of it? And if we’re not “not proud” of something, then can’t we just say that we’re proud of it?

Is “unproud” a word?

So what’s the verdict? Is “unproud” a word? It is. The Merriam-Webster dictionary even tweeted confirmation during the debate in an attempt to nip the mounting confusion in the bud.

And it’s not that the Merriam-Webster dictionary went along with Trump’s use of the word to benefit from the traffic they were getting from it. “Unproud” has been around since the 1500s, and you can find entries for it not just in the Merriam-Webster dictionary but also in the Oxford Dictionaries.

Can’t we just use “proud”?

So we’ve settled the fact that “unproud” is a word, but is it a word that we really need? Can’t we just use the word “proud”? After all, saying that someone is not unproud of something is a double negative. Isn’t it easier to just say that someone is “proud” of something?

It’s true that “not unproud” and “proud” mean the same thing, but they don’t exactly feel the same. To understand why, let’s take a look at what Trump’s statement would look like if we replaced “not unproud” with “proud”:

  • “I’m not unproud of it, to be honest with you.”
  • “I’m proud of it, to be honest with you.”

Did you get more of an icky feeling when you read the second one? You’re probably not the only one.

“Not unproud of” suggests that Trump doesn’t feel bad about how he uses social media whereas “proud of” would suggest that he feels good about how he behaves online. Although you may still cringe when you hear Trump say that he doesn’t feel bad about his late-night Twitter rants, it would probably feel even worse if he said that he felt good about them.

So when Trump decided to use “not unproud” instead of “proud,” he may have been thinking and speaking strategically. (Imagine that!)

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Are you wondering whether “braggadocious”, the linguistic mystery of the first presidential debate, is a real word? We’ve got you covered with this post.

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Need to make a good impression with your website copy, blog posts, or reports? We can help. Get an instant quote here.

Inpression Editing | Online editing, copywriting, and coaching | www.inpression.io


Where to place commas in a sentence

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When was the last time you were confused about where to place commas in a sentence? It probably wasn’t that long ago. That’s because commas are tricky things. They can play so many different roles in sentences that it’s hard to keep all of them straight. To save you from the torture of comma confusion, we’re featuring an awesome 5-minute TED-Ed video on where to place commas in a sentence.

In true TED fashion, the creators of this video use superheroes to turn a typically dry and complex topic in something that’s fun and easy to understand. (Would you expect anything less from the TED brand?) We guarantee that you’ll have a better idea of where to place commas in a sentence after watching it.

What this video covers

This video is a short one, so it doesn’t cover everything you could ever know about commas. And you know what? It’s probably for the best. A video that covered everything would probably be pretty overwhelming. The last thing you want to do is spend time watching something and either not learn anything or just get more confused. Instead, you want to kick your comma confusion to the curb.

So what does this video focus on? Using a clever weight balance analogy, it breaks down how to use commas when you’re working with coordinate conjunctions (word like “and,” “but,” and “so”) and subordinate conjunctions (words like “even though,” “because,” and “although”). In other words, it helps you figure out where to place commas in a sentence like these:

  • Because I stayed up late I’m tired.
  • Jake created the graphics and Malika wrote the script.
  • Tomas specializes in web design whereas Anika focuses on web development.
  • I forgot my business cards in the car so I’ll have to go back to grab them.
  • Although we were only 15 minutes late we lost our reservation.
  • I like chocolate chunk cupcakes and lemon cupcakes. (Are we making you hungry yet?)

Ready to watch the video? You can check it out here:

What did you think?

Did you just finish watching the video? Which superhero character was your favourite: the resourceful and chic comma, the mighty subordinates, or the tiny but strong coordinates? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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Want a more comprehensive rundown about how to use commas in a sentence? Check out our post on the 6 key things you need to know about commas.

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Is “braggadocious” a word?

braggadocious_blog

There were over 80 million people who watched the first US presidential debate on September 26, so there’s a good chance you were one of them. If you were, you may have heard Trump say this: “I have a tremendous income and the reason I say that is not in a braggadocious way.” If you’re like most people, you may have thrown “braggadocious” into the growing pile (or mountain) of obscure and seemingly made-up words that Trump uses. After all, “braggadocious” doesn’t exactly sound like a real word. But is it possible that Trump didn’t actually make this word up? Is “braggadocious” a word?

You may be surprised to hear it, but the answer is “yes.” As ridiculous as it may sound, “braggadocious” is a real word.

How Do We Know Whether “Braggadocious” Is a Word?

When we say that “braggadocious” is a real word, we’re not saying that it’s just included as a word in the slang repository Urban Dictionary. Instead, “braggadocious” is included in established and reputable dictionaries like the Oxford Dictionaries, the Cambridge English Dictionary, and the Collins English Dictionary.

Although it’s listed as an “informal” word, it’s been in use since the middle of the 19th century. Yup, you read that correctly. You can check out the dictionary entries for yourself if you still can’t believe it.

So what does “braggadocous” mean? It means “boastful” or “arrogant.” You would use it in sentences like these:

  • “She talked about the success of her business in a braggadocious way.”
  • “He was braggadocious when talking about his son’s performance at the swim meet.”
  • “They came across as braggadocious when describing the home they’re building.”

Not only did Trump use a real word when he used “braggadocious,” but he also used it properly in a sentence. He really is full of surprises, isn’t he?

You’re Not the Only One Out of the Loop

Now, if you’re feeling a little embarrassed that you didn’t know a word that even Trump knows, don’t. You’re not the only one who’s late to the “braggadocious” game.

There were so many people thrown off by Trump’s use of the word during the debate that major media outlets like the New York Times have written articles about it, and according to Google Trends, searches for it far exceeded the number of searches for “Donald Trump” on debate night

In fact, “braggadocious” is so uncommon that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary doesn’t have an entry for it on the grounds that people don’t use it enough. The dictionary does have an entry for its root word (“braggadocio”), which, you guessed it, was also trending on the dictionary’s site when we wrote this. For a word that almost no one knew about a few weeks ago, it’s sure getting more than its 15 minutes of fame.

Wrapping Things Up

So although it may not always seem like it, a 2016 US presidential debate can be educational (imagine that!). The first one made us ask ourselves serious questions like, “Is ‘braggadocious’ a real word?” And we found out that contrary to popular belief, it actually is. We don’t know about you, but we’re pretty excited to see what wacky words Trump brings our way the next time he goes head to head with Clinton.

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Want to read about other words that don’t seem real? Check out our post on whether “irregardless” is a real word.

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Need to make a good impression with your web copy, blog posts, or reports? We can help. Get an instant quote here.

Inpression Editing | Online editing, copywriting, and coaching | www.inpression.io


16 Tips on How to Reduce Word Counts and Write Concisely

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Have you ever finished drafting a one-pager, report, or social media profile only to find out that you’re hundreds of words or characters over your limit? Or maybe you’re not working with a word limit, but you get the sense that the long sentences in your blog post or website copy are going to make your visitors drop like flies. Instead of breaking out into a happy dance to celebrate the fact that you finally managed to sit still long enough to pull together a full draft, you’re left to figure out how you’re going to trim your sentences and meet your word or character limit. To help you out, we’ve created a list of our top 16 on how to reduce word counts and write concisely.

Note that these tips work best when you’ve already cut out the full sentences and paragraphs that you just don’t need. They’ll help you write clear and crisp sentences, sentences that show that you know what you’re talking about and don’t need to beat around the bush to say it. Use these tips to keep your writing short and simple and knock that word count or character count down.

Tip #1: Remove redundant words

Redundant words are words that repeat information that’s conveyed by other words in a sentence. These words are like an appendix – they take up space, but they don’t really do anything useful. In fact, if anything, they just cause problems. (And you don’t need more of those, do you?)

Redundant words don’t add any unique information to a sentence. As a result, you can remove them without losing any information.

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“She prepared a (brief) summary for the project team.” (9 words; 42 characters)
“She prepared a summary for the project team.” (8 words; 37 characters)

“The store is open to the (general) public.” (8 words; 33 characters)
“The store is open to the public.” (7 words; 26 characters)

“When Obama (first) became president, he moved into the White House.” (11 words; 57 characters)
“When Obama became president, he moved into the White House.” (10 words; 50 characters)

Tip #2: Remove unnecessary words

Unnecessary words are a lot like redundant words. They get added to sentences but often don’t need to be there. (Are you starting to see a theme?)

Unlike redundant words, unnecessary words don’t necessarily repeat information that’s expressed by another word in the same sentence. Instead, unnecessary words are often the words that make up wordy phrases. In most cases, you can replace these wordy phrases with shorter phrases to get rid of the unnecessary words. Remember, less is more.

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“People who violate the terms of use may experience a number of consequences.” (13 words; 64 characters)
“People who violate the terms of use may experience several consequences.” (11 words; 62 characters)

“We need the approved mockups in order to start developing the website.” (12 words; 59 characters)
“We need the approved mockups to start developing the website.” (10 words; 52 characters)

Want some examples of common wordy phrases and their shorter equivalents? Check these out:

  1. A number of: several, many (3 words vs. 1 word)
  2. As a means of: to (4 words vs. 1 word)
  3. At the present time: now (4 words vs. 1 word)
  4. Due to the fact that: because, since (5 words vs. 1 word)
  5. In an effort to: to (4 words vs. 1 word)
  6. In close proximity to: near (4 words vs. 1 word)
  7. In order to: to (3 words vs. 1 word)
  8. In the near future: soon, shortly (4 words vs. 1 word)
  9. It is requested that you: please (5 words vs. 1 word)
  10. With the exception of: except (4 words vs. 1 word)

In some cases, you can get rid of an entire set of unnecessary words without having to replace them with a shorter set of words. Take a look at this example:

There are no previous studies that investigated the relationship between protein X and protein Y.” (15 words; 83 characters)
“No previous studies investigated the relationship between protein X and protein Y.” (12 words; 71 characters)

Here are some other words and sets of words that you can often banish from your sentences without having to replace them with anything. The numbers in parentheses show the number of words you’ll save by getting rid of these words.

  1. The fact that (-3 words)
  2. It has been reported that (-5 words)
  3. It was observed/found that (-4 words)
  4. There is/there are (-2 words)
  5. Very (-1 word)
  6. Really (-1 word)

And finally, some words become unnecessary words in a certain context. Let’s take a look at these examples:

“The most important ingredient in this recipe…” (7 words; 38 characters)
“The most important ingredient…”(4 words; 26 characters)

As you can see, we can remove “in this recipe” from the sentence. Why? Because we know that ingredients are usually part of recipes. So if we’re talking about ingredients, we can assume our reader will know that we’re talking about ingredients in a recipe.

Note, though, that “in this recipe” isn’t always redundant. For example, you wouldn’t be able to remove it from this sentence:

“There are peanuts in this recipe.”

Peanut allergies are pretty serious business, so you’d want to keep “in this recipe” in the sentence so that your reader knows what the peanuts are in. After all, EpiPens aren’t exactly cheap these days, so you probably want to avoid having to use one.

Bonus tip: Use the “find” function in your word processor to search for the most common unnecessary words in your writing.

 Tip #3: Remove the word “that”

It’s common to pepper sentences with the word “that,” but this word often doesn’t add much to the meaning of a sentence. It’s yet another appendix.

Because “that” usually doesn’t convey important information in a sentence, you can often make your sentences shorter by removing it.

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“The car that Michael just bought broke down.” (8 words; 37 characters)
“The car Michael just bought broke down.” (7 words; 33 characters)

“Being blamed for something that you didn’t do is frustrating.” (10 words; 52 characters)
“Being blamed for something you didn’t do is frustrating.” (9 words; 48 characters)

“The report that we’ve been working on is almost complete.” (10 words; 48 characters)
“The report we’ve been working on is almost complete.” (9 words; 44 characters)

Tip #4: Get rid of unnecessary helping verbs

Do you have a relative or friend who always tries to be helpful but often isn’t? Ironically, helping verbs can sometimes be like this.

But what are helping verbs anyway? Helping verbs are words like “be,” “do,” and “have.” They’re called helping verbs because they help the main verb in a sentence (imagine that!).

In some cases, we need to include a helping verb in a sentence to modify the meaning of the main verb in the sentence. In many cases, though, we end up including them in sentences when they aren’t needed.

So what do you do in these situations? Take that helping verb out.

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“First, you have to enter your password into the scanner.” (10 words; 47 characters)
“First, enter your password into the scanner.” (7 words; 38 characters)

“Airlines are always trying to charge more.” (7 words; 36 characters)
“Airlines always try to charge more.” (6 words; 30 characters)

“I do need to go to the mall.” (8 words; 21 characters)
“I need to go to the mall.” (7 words; 19 characters)

Tip #5: Replace nouns with verbs

Some people have a thing for nouns. Really, they do. Many words can be expressed as either nouns (e.g., “It is our recommendation that”) or as verbs (“We recommend that”). And people who have a thing for nouns think that the noun versions of these words sound much sexier.

The problem with the noun forms of words is that they’re often longer than the verb forms. They also usually force us to add other extra words to a sentence to make it grammatically correct. Instead of being seduced by wordy nouns, put them in their place by using their verb counterparts instead.

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

The implementation of the social media strategy will boost engagement.” (10 words; 61 characters)
Implementing the social media strategy will boost engagement.” (8 words; 54 characters)

The categorization of children by swimming ability rather than by age will make lessons more productive.” (16 words; 89 characters)
Categorizing children by swimming ability rather than by age will make lessons more productive.” (14 words; 82 characters)

The addition of crystals to the dress will make it too heavy.” (12 words; 50 characters)
Adding crystals to the dress will make it too heavy.” (10 words; 43 characters)

Tip # 6: Shorten long words

Sometimes you end up with a long noun that can’t be swapped for a verb. And in other cases, you end up with a long word that’s already a verb. This may worry you because you know that sentences with long words are more cumbersome to read. Just take a look at this sentence:

“The utilization of the social media automation tool will allow us to ensure the completion of the sharing of our images with our followers.”

Long? Yes. Confusing? Just a bit.

Never fear, though. There’s still something you can do when you realize that you’ve written a monster of a sentence like this: you can replace the long noun or verb with a shorter word that means the same thing.

Although this won’t help you reduce word counts, it’ll help if you’re working with a character or page limit. It’ll also help you write sleeker and more powerful sentences.(Wouldn’t that be awesome?)

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“The utilization of the social media automation tool will allow us to ensure the completion of the sharing of our images with our followers.” (24 words; 116 characters)

“The use of the social media automation tool will allow us to finish sharing our images with our followers.” (19 words; 88 characters)

Using the social media automation tool will allow us to finish sharing our images with our followers.” (17 words; 85 characters)

Want some more examples of long words that you can swap for shorter ones? Here you go:

  1. Notification: notice (12 characters vs. 6 characters)
  2. Portion: part (7 characters vs. 4 characters)
  3. Remainder: rest (9 characters vs. 4 characters)
  4. Upon: on (4 characters vs. 2 characters)
  5. Usage: use (5 characters vs. 3 characters)

Tip #7: Replace multiple weak words with a powerful word

In some cases, we create emphasis in sentences by stringing together verbs (words that describe actions), adjectives (words that describe nouns or pronouns), and adverbs (words that describe adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs). This makes sentences longer than they need to be because we end up using more words to convey the same information.

By replacing a set of weak words with a single strong word, you can shorten your sentences and make them more punchy. You’re not weak, so why make yourself sound weak through your writing?

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“She looked incredibly nervous while she was presenting.” (8 words; 48 characters)
“She looked terrified while she was presenting.” (7 words; 40 characters)

“He was very tired after staying up all night to finish his essay.” (13 words; 53 characters)
“He was exhausted after staying up all night to finish his essay.” (12 words; 53 characters)

“She looked absolutely stunning in her mother’s wedding dress.” (9 words; 52 characters)
“She rocked her mother’s wedding dress.” (6 words; 33 characters)

Tip #8: Replace prepositional phrases with adverbs

Another way that we make our sentences weak is by using prepositional phases (i.e., phrases built around words like “with,” “of,” and “in”) to describe an action. To streamline sentences and reduce word counts, we can often replace the prepositional phrase with a single word. Why make your readers do more work than they need to do to read your one-pager or blog post?

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“The cyclist pedalled with fury.” (5 words; 27 characters)
“The cyclist pedalled furiously.” (4 words; 28 characters)

“The athlete raced through the obstacle course with agility.” (9 words; 51 characters)
“The athlete raced through the obstacle course agilely. (8 words; 47 characters)

Tip #9: Make words plural

Yup. You read the heading for this tip correctly. You can reduce word counts and write concisely just by making singular words plural.

Singular words often need an article (e.g., “the” or “a”) in front of them whereas plural words often don’t. As a result, you can shrink your sentences by making singular words plural when possible.

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“A good doctor is intelligent, knowledgeable, and experienced.” (8 words; 54 characters)
“Good doctors are intelligent, knowledgeable, and experienced.” (7 words; 55 characters)

“A pear contains more fibre than an apple does.” (9 words; 38 characters)
“Pears contain more fibre than apples do.” (7 words; 34 characters)

“A child learns most effectively when taught by a compassionate teacher.” (11 words; 61 characters)
“Children learn most effectively when taught by compassionate teachers.” (9 words; 62 characters)

Tip #10: Replace prepositional phrases with possessives

Those pesky prepositional phrases are back at it again. In this case, they’re making us use more words than we really need to indicate that something belongs to someone (i.e., to indicate possession). These sentences tend to look like this:

“The cover of the ebook needs more work.”

This sentence takes the form “the X of Y,” where X = “the cover” and Y = “the ebook.”

This may not seem that wordy, and it’s true that this particular sentence isn’t. But there’s still a way to make this sentence shorter and tighter: take “the X of the Y” and turn it into “Y’s X.” If we do this to the example sentence above, it would look like this:

“The ebook’s cover needs more work.”

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“The complexity of the street map confused me.” (8 words; 38 characters)
“The street map’s complexity confused me.” (6 words; 35 characters)

“The title page of the report looks great!” (8 words; 34 characters)
“The report’s title page looks great!” (6 words; 31 characters)

“The invoice for the customer isn’t ready yet.” (8 words; 38 characters)
“The customer’s invoice isn’t ready yet.” (6 words; 34 characters)

Tip 11: Rewrite sentences to eliminate prepositions

We’ve talked about how phrases built around prepositions make sentences wordy. But prepositions can make sentences longer than they need to be even when they appear on their own. Those troublemakers!

In many cases, you can get rid of a preposition by rewriting the sentence.

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“We will test customers’ preferences for winter coats.” (8 words; 46 characters)
“We will test customers’ winter coat preferences.” (7 words; 42 characters)

“The weather in Vancouver is typically better than the weather in Edmonton.” (12 words; 63 characters)
“Vancouver weather is typically better than Edmonton weather.” (8 words; 53 characters)

“The manager of the restaurant apologized for the undercooked meat.” (10 words; 57 characters)
“The restaurant manager apologized for the undercooked meat.” (8 words; 52 characters)

In some cases, you can use the “-ing” form of a verb to remove a preposition. You’ll just need to play around with the word order in the sentence. Here’s how this could look:

“We will use the results of Phase 1 to develop a tool in Phase 2.” (15 words; 50 characters)
“Using the results of Phase 1, we will develop a tool in Phase 2.” (14 words; 51 characters)

Tip #12: Eliminate conjunctions

Sometimes we take sets of words that could form their own sentence and instead join them together in one sentence using a coordinating conjunction (a word like “and,” “so,” or “but”). Here’s an example:

“Tom wrote the copy for the ebook, and Malika designed the graphics.”

The conjunction doesn’t take up that much space in a sentence. But if you’re pressed for space, replacing the conjunction and the comma before it with a period or a semicolon can help you reduce word counts.

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“Tom wrote the copy for the ebook, and Malika designed the graphics.”(12 words; 56 characters)

“Tom wrote the copy for the ebook; Malika designed the graphics.”(11 words; 53 characters)

“Tom wrote the copy for the ebook. Malika designed the graphics.” (11 words; 53 characters)

Tip #13: Write in active voice instead of in passive voice

Writing in passive voice (e.g., “The soccer ball was kicked by Mia”) instead of active voice (e.g., “Mia kicked the soccer ball”) is a lot like using nouns in place of verbs – people think sentences sound more impressive when they’re written this way.

The problem with passive voice, though, is that it makes sentences longer and less powerful. Do you want your website copy, one-pager, or report to have a strong impact on your readers? If you do, reduce word counts and write more concisely by rewriting passive voice sentences in active voice.

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“The survey was conducted by the project team in January 2015.” (passive; 11 words; 51 characters)
“The project team conducted the survey in January 2015.” (active; 9 words; 46 characters)

“The lawsuit was filed by Mighty Media.” (passive; 7 words; 32 characters)
“Mighty Media filed the lawsuit.” (active; 5 words; 27 characters)

“The dance company’s performance was choreographed by Karen Kain.” (passive; 9 words; 56 characters)
“Karen Kain choreographed the dance company’s performance.” (active; 7 words; 51 characters)

Hint: Need help identifying passive sentences in your writing? If you can place “by zombies” after the main verb in a sentence, your sentence is probably in passive voice. Here’s an example:

“The lawsuit was filed (by zombies) by Mighty Media.”

 Tip #14: Combine sentences

Sometimes you can make paragraphs shorter by combining related sentences. Just make sure that your combined sentences don’t become too long or difficult to follow. Otherwise you’ll be back at square one when it comes to trimming your sentences.

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“Six participants tested the product. They ranged in age from 19 to 56 years.” (14 words)
“Six participants aged 19–56 years tested the product.” (8 words)

“Sophia is a senior accountant at Mighty Media. She is responsible for overseeing the work of four junior accountants at the company.” (22 words)
“Sophia, a senior accountant at Mighty Media, oversees the work of four junior accountants.” (14 words)

“Anton is a hotel pastry chef. He works at a luxury hotel in Florida.” (14 words)
“Anton is a pastry chef at a luxury Florida hotel.” (10 words)

Tip #15: Describe data in one place only

This tip is helpful if you’re presenting tables or graphs along with text. Tables and graphs are a lot like PowerPoint slides – they’re meant to complement but not repeat everything you present in another format, whether that format is text in a paragraph or information that you’re presenting out loud. Some people make the mistake of providing the same information in a table or graph and in the text of a blog post, report, or one-pager.

Here’s what this looks like:

“A large proportion of customers reported seeing the web (90%), social media (80%), and in-store (60%) ads (see Figure 1).” (20 words; 102 characters)

Figure 1. Percentage of customers who saw store ads

presentation1

You wouldn’t make your readers read the same paragraph twice, so why would you make them read a paragraph and either a table or graph that contain the same information? That’s why many style guides recommend describing information in one place only – in a paragraph or in a table or figure.

See how this looks:

“Figure 1 displays the number of customers who saw the online, social media, and in-store ads.” (16 words; 78 characters)

Figure 1. Percentage of customers who saw store ads

presentation1

Tip #16: Use abbreviations consistently

Abbreviations are like candy – some people can’t get enough of them when they write. In our ebook “How to Write Clearly,” we talk about why you should limit your use of abbreviations.

If you’re going to use them, and there are appropriate times to use them, don’t make the mistake that most people make. That is, don’t use an abbreviation inconsistently throughout a document or piece of copy. Here’s what this inconsistency looks like:

“The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) oversees the health care system in Ontario, Canada. One of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s key goals is to build a sustainable and patient-centered public health system.” (37 words; 196 characters)

You probably introduced the abbreviation to avoid writing out a long name over and over again. So when you don’t use the abbreviation consistently, it defeats the purpose of using it. This inconsistency also increases your word and character counts.

To make your abbreviations worth the cost of using them (see our ebook for more on this), use them consistently throughout a document or piece of copy.

Here’s how you can use this tip to reduce word counts and write concisely:

“The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) oversees the health care system in Ontario, Canada. One of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s key goals is to build a sustainable and patient-centered public health system.” (37 words; 196 characters)

“The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) oversees the health care system in Ontario, Canada. One of MOHLTC’s key goals is to build a sustainable and patient-centered public health system.” (31 words; 167 characters)

Summary

You may be looking at these tips and noticing that they don’t reduce word counts or character counts by a huge amount. So why bother using them?

It’s true that if you use just one of these tips in one sentence of your report or blog post, you won’t see much of a difference. However, if you use even just a few of these strategies across an entire document or piece of writing, the savings will add up. We promise. You’ll be surprised by just how much shorter and tighter you can make your sentences by giving these tips a try.

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Looking for more tips on how to reduce word counts and write concisely? Check out our post on the 3 wordy phrases you should ban from your writing.

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