Concise? That’s Affirmative.

A crucial part of writing with concision is to look out for negation. That is, words like no and not, and words that start with the prefix un-.

Whenever possible, switch a negative into an affirmative.

When you express an idea in its negative form, you often have to insert an extra word (like no or not). Worse, you force your reader to decode your meaning through a sort of algebra that’s no fun. For example:

No:      Do not write in the negative.

Yes:     Write in the affirmative.

Both these sentences mean exactly the same thing. But the second one, the affirmative is more direct.

Almost any negative can be transformed:

  • not many                    few
  • not different              similar
  • not often                    rarely
  • not the same              different
  • not admit                   deny
  • not allow                    prevent
  • not include                 omit
  • not notice                   overlook
  • not consider               ignore
  • not remember           forget

Of course, some words are implicitly negative and cannot be converted. For example:

  • against
  • contradict
  • deny
  • lack
  • prohibit
  • unless

But beware that you don’t use too many of them in the same sentence, or you’ll confound your reader.

No:      Except when applicants have failed to submit applications without all documentation, benefits will not be denied.

Yes:     To receive benefits, submit all your documents.

And you’ll baffle your reader even more if you dare combine these negatives with the passive voice, like this:

No:      Payments should not be submitted without the office being notified unless the payment does not exceed $100.

Yes:     If you submit more than $100, notify the office first.

In other words, write what you mean, and state it in the affirmative.

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