The second most frequent agent of wordiness in business writing, Burger tells us (see 7/27 posting) is “Pointlessly Saying What Goes Without Saying.” We easily slip into the habit of providing information that the reader already knows, can easily surmise, or doesn’t need to know.
His advise on a business letter (do people still write these?) was to simply drop the salutation (“Dear Sir,”) following the inside address. This seemed like heresy when I first tried it. I half expected to get an angry letter back saying, “How rude—you did not call me “Dear,” but the omission passed unnoticed. Dropping the salutation also eliminated the question of using Miss, Madam, or Ms. (or worse, guessing the wrong sex).
Burger’s next suggestion was to drop the complementary close where I habitually assured the recipient I was very truly theirs, or that I was sincere. “Don’t say anything,” Burger told us. “They already assume this. Just sign your name and be done with it.” This, too, seemed like heresy, and this, too, passed without notice.
These are just specific examples of the broader, general principle. Others are eliminating the year in a date when it is obvious (as in my opening sentence), the state after a city (do we need to tell the reader we mean the Philadelphia that is in Pennsylvania when we are writing about the Liberty Bell?), or “Mr.” when referring to a person.
(Did you even notice I did not say “Mr. Burger” in the previous paragraph? Also note, I use the newspaper style of referring to a person by their last name, which feels strange when writing it, but is the style familiar to the reader.)
When I write a blog, I write down everything quickly, then edit out probably half with this rule alone. My biggest problem is going off on a tangent with items that illustrate my cleverness but, on second thought, contribute little to understanding the narrow point of the posting. These are the most painful to eliminate, but for you, dear reader, I will make any sacrifice.