Pros take time to trim their prose

One of the saddest practices in academic writing is prescribed minimums.  I’m talking about teachers’ requirements for no less than 500 words, 5 pages, etc. (For a funny take on this, see I can write 600 words about anything from The Onion.) Of course, teachers prescribe minimums when their students have no real NEED to communicate a message. Teachers can avoid this with writing assignments that have a real purpose and audience. (And a few do.) But the minimum prescription is the norm throughout North American education.  It causes all kinds of problems when amateur writers enter the workplace, where there are maximums instead of minimums.

Blaise Pascal, French mathematician and philosopher, is credited with writing something translated into English as:

I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.

It certainly takes more time to create a document that is both effective AND efficient. Pros are often required to make their documents shorter — even when they would prefer not to take the time. In the real world, there are only maximums. And that includes the world of pro academic writers. Trimming your prose is not exciting or glamorous. And amateurs are lucky to get any practice at it while in school. But they still have to learn to do it if they want to be a pro.

To provide some assistance, I’m updating a video tutorial on conciseness. It refers to a page from the Executive Summary for Non-profit Business Plan, which I adapted from one I found at Bplans.com. To summarize the rhetorical context:

  • Writer: director of a non-profit food bank
  • Reader: decision makers at philanthropic foundations
  • Bottom Line Message: provide the organization with funding because it provides important services in an effective and efficient manner

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