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Garbl's Concise Writing Guide


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"Contrary to what some people seem to believe, simple writing is not the product of simple minds. A simple, unpretentious style has both grace and power. By not calling attention to itself, it allows the reader to focus on the message"--Richard Lederer and Richards Dowis, Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay, 1999.

If you want to make your writing easier to read and understand, use Garbl's Concise Writing Guide. This free guide provides alternatives to overstated, pompous words; wordy, bureaucratic phrases; and verbose, sometimes amusing redundant phrases. Its suggestions are especially useful for nonfiction but also can be applied to fiction:

Garbl's Editorial Style Manual--About concise (adj.), concisely (adv.), conciseness (n.).

Garbl's Plain Language Writing Guide--A seven-step approach to writing clearly and concisely to meet the needs of your readers. Covers reader and purpose, organization, paragraphs, sentences, words, design and testing.

Garbl's Writing Bookshelf--an annotated list of books on writing that I own and recommend. Book categories: grammar and punctuation, concise writing and plain language, style, usage, dictionaries and thesauruses, writing and editing, business and technical writing, creativity, quotations, and's best-selling writing references.

Words of Wisdom

Apocrypha: "Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in a few words.'"

Christopher Buckley: "The best advice on writing I've ever received was from William Zinsser: 'Be grateful for every word you can cut.'"

Truman Capote: "I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil."

Rachel Carson: "[Writing is] largely a matter of application and hard work, or writing and rewriting endlessly until you are satisfied that you have said what you want to say as clearly and simply as possible."

Winston Churchill: "Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words when short are best of all."

Cicero: "When you wish to instruct, be brief; that men's minds take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind."

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "Words in prose ought to express the intended meaning; if they attract attention to themselves, it is a fault; in the very best styles you read page after page without noticing the medium."

Leonardo da Vinci: "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

Albert Einstein: "If you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it well."

Albert Einstein: "Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in language comprehensible to everyone."

Albert Einstein: "Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius--and a lot of courage--to move in the opposite direction."

George Eliot: "The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words."

Wilson Follett: "Whenever we can make 25 words do the work of 50, we halve the area in which looseness and disorganization can flourish."

H.W. Fowler: "Any one who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid."

Anatole France: "The finest words in the world are only vain sounds if you can't understand them."

Anatole France: "The best sentence? The shortest."

Learned Hand: "The language of law must not be foreign to the ears of those who are to obey it."

Robert Heinlein: "The most important lesson in the writing trade is that any manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat."

Hippocrates: "The chief virtue that language can have is clearness, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar words."

Thomas Jefferson: "The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do."

Samuel Johnson: "Do not accustom yourself to use big words for little matters."

Samuel Johnson: "A man who uses a great many words to express his meaning is like a bad marksman who instead of aiming a single stone at an object takes up a handful and throws at it in hopes he may hit."

Joseph Joubert: "Words, like glasses, obscure everything they do not make clear."

James J. Kilpatrick: "Use familiar words--words that your readers will understand, and not words they will have to look up. No advice is more elementary, and no advice is more difficult to accept. When we feel an impulse to use a marvelously exotic word, let us lie down until the impulse goes away."

C.S. Lewis: "Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite."

John Locke: "Vague forms of speech have so long passed for mysteries of science; and hard words mistaken for deep learning, that it will not be easy to persuade either those who speak or those who hear them, that they are but a hindrance to true knowledge."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: "Many a poem is marred by a superfluous word."

W. Somerset Maugham: "The secret of play-writing can be given in two maxims: stick to the point, and, whenever you can, cut."

Charles Mingus: "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity."

George Orwell: "The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink."

Blaise Pascal: "The letter I have written today is longer than usual because I lacked the time to make it shorter."

William Penn: "Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood."

Alexander Pope: "Words are like leaves; and where they most abound, Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found."

Beatrix Potter: "The shorter and the plainer the better."

Will Rogers: "I love words but I don't like strange ones. You don't understand them and they don't understand you. Old words is like old friends, you know 'em the minute you see 'em."

William Safire: "It behooves us to avoid archaisms. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do."

William Shakespeare: "Men of few words are the best men."

William Strunk: "A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts."

Mark Twain: "I never write metropolis for seven cents when I can get the same price for city. I never write policeman when I can get the same money for cop."

Mark Twain: "As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out."

Mark Twain: "Anybody can have ideas--the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph."

E.B. White: "Use the smallest word that does the job."

William Butler Yeats: "Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people."

William Zinsser: "Writing improves in direct ratio to the things we can keep out of it that shouldn't be there."

Shorter, Simpler Words | Wordy Phrase Replacements | Redundant Phrase Replacements

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Copyright 2021. Maintained by Gary B. Larson of Port Townsend, Washington, Please understand that if I respond to your questions about writing, I may not respond quickly enough to meet your deadline. (If you're wondering, I've never been a cartoonist.)

Updated Nov. 12, 2021. Whatever their acclaim and position, all writers need editors. I don't have one for Garbl's Concise Writing Guide, so if you spot a typo, unclear message, bad link or possible error, please let me know.