The Soul of Wit


Although emulating Shakespeare may be aiming a bit high in our day-to-day emails, we can enhance our writing by committing to a venerated line from Hamlet: “Brevity is the soul of wit.” When we edit our work, often the fun part is spotting a needless word or fat phrase and trimming it. Try your hand at these.

1. The score is tied at 93 to 93 with just 28 seconds left to go.

2. Driving at a high rate of speed can lead to a ticket, or worse.

3. My nephew inadvertently coined a new word our whole family now uses: “flustrated.”

4. My niece lives in one of the loveliest neighborhoods in the Greater Cleveland area.

5. Sam’s past experience with youth leagues was absolutely essential to our success.

6. I wish we could rewind back to last week’s meeting when it seemed we were nearing a consensus of opinion.


1. No need to write “93 to 93” if we just established the score is tied. All we need is “tied at 93.” And sportscasters often utter the redundant phrase “left to go.” All they need to tell us is “28 seconds left” or “28 seconds to go.”

2. A “high rate of speed” can be shortened to “high speed.” And there’s nothing wrong with just “fast.”

3. When we coin something, it’s new. So “coined a new word” can become “coined a word.”

4. Instead of “Greater Cleveland area,” how about just “Greater Cleveland” or “Cleveland area”?

5. We’ve probably all stumbled on “past experience” when one of those two words will suffice. (Here, “experience” is better.) And “absolutely essential” is overkill. “Essential” makes the point without any help.

6. Watch out for the superfluous “back” with words like “reflect” and “revert.” Here, “rewind back” is redundant. And a “consensus” exists when opinions agree, so all we need is “we were nearing a consensus.” (We might even cut “it seemed” if all would concur that at the prior meeting we were close to unanimity.)

Last week, we discussed how much our readers appreciate a natural, friendly tone. We also win points when we take the care to write concisely.

In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at  

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