Judy Nollet
White Plume Communications

writer, instructional designer, eLearning developer

Writing Up, Down, and All Around

"Write down your ideas."
"Write up your ideas."

Ah, the idiosyncrasies of the English language! It lets you write up or down—with no regard, of course, for the actual physical position you use. You may also jot something down, but not up. Or type something up, but not down.

I bring this up (not down) to show how words can expand a sentence without necessarily clarifying it. "Write off" and "write" do have separate meanings. But "write down" refers to the same action as "write." Yet the latter saves the use of four letters and a space.

Not much, you say? True. If you have lots of space and not much to tell, you appreciate every extra word you can use. But consider this: computer-based programs sometimes assign a fixed space for text. For instance, for some educational software, I once had to summarize six Civil War events in 25 lines, 52 characters across. In such cases, even "up" or "down" may be the difference between fitting on screen or running off.

Fewer words require less space but often more effort. As someone once put it, "I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn't have the time." Words often spill out of the brain, and it takes careful editing to mop up the surplus while leaving a coherent idea intact.

To tighten your text, I recommend Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Concise Writing. The first part explains how to spot and correct wordiness. The second provides alternatives to common wordy expressions.

And for those not convinced that concise writing is worth the effort, I offer this exchange from Shakespeare's Richard III:

"What, so brief?"
"'Tis better, sir, than to be tedious."

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	Email white plume at comcast dot net. link to email Judy

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