Beyond the Build


Omit Needless Words

Of all the classroom books I have met, few have had as much everyday impact as Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style,” a classic handbook on composition published in 1918. The infamous rule #13 stating, “Omit needless words,” is a practice revered by journalists and novelists, as it should be by anyone using the written word to communicate.

Strunk and White advise that we should “make every word tell.” Unlike high school English class, where we all strained to reach the required word count, to me, most good business correspondence should require brevity. Simply stated: Communicate your message using the least number of words possible.

In the heat of the moment, we’re all guilty of overdoing it. It takes time to condense an email or shorten a memo. It takes practice and skill. However, I consider succinct writing a courtesy, and your efforts will not go unnoticed. I’ve made it my practice to review a final text, then try to eliminate about a 1/3 of what I’ve written. Try it. You’ll be amazed at how many extra words “float” in your message. The added benefit will be that those extra words can be saved for another communication.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.