October 15, 2007
wordiness to write with power
by Stephen Wilbers
You’ve heard it many times.
Don’t waste your reader’s time. Avoid wordy expressions.
"Omit needless words," Strunk
and White say in The Elements of Style. "Omit surplus
words," Richard Wydick tell us in Plain English for Lawyers.
"Clutter is the disease of American writing," William
Zinsser says in On
From many authorities you hear
the same message. Make every word count. Compressing your
language adds emphasis to your writing and adds power to your
style. But what types of wordiness are common? What are the
Let’s begin with three types
Some words require no modification. They stand on their own.
It’s a true fact. Ask anyone in the immediate vicinity. Do you
have any personal opinions on the subject? Past memories? Should
I stop referring back to these obvious examples? Do you see the
end result, or should I continue on? If you can find the eight
examples of redundant modifiers in this paragraph, you deserve a
It’s a habit formed in 1066 when William the Conqueror invaded
England and imposed a new language on the locals, who were
naturally resentful, so they began pairing the new words with
their old ones, and 941 years later we still have the habit. So
first and foremost I hope and trust that each and every one of
you will make a full and complete effort to eliminate any and
all, as well as various and sundry, redundant pairs from your
writing. And so on and so forth.
Another pattern to watch for is the tendency to state an
attribute and then, perhaps in an effort to be precise, to state
its broader category. The typeface you are reading, for example,
is black in color, and though it is relatively small in size, I
hope you find it attractive in appearance. Some variations in
typeface, of course, are only cosmetic in appearance.
In addition to these three
types of redundancy, there are two more common sources of
We all have little mannerisms that help us
find our words and formulate our thoughts, but basically
sometimes these mannerisms basically become a crutch and
basically become annoying. Totally. Well, actually they
virtually become a drum beat that effectively distracts the
reader from our message. Definitely. Sort of.
Until such time as (until) you learn to spot these patterns
during the course of (during) your editing, you will waste your
reader’s time. In the event that (if) you let one of these wordy
expressions slide by prior to sending (before you send) your
message, you should try harder the next time owing to the fact
that (because) in the final analysis (finally) there’s always
another message to write.
In addition to these patterns
of redundancy and wordiness, fancy words can distract and annoy
your readers. So if you want to endeavor to effectuate a change
in your style, I deem it imperative you commence tout de suite.
Exercise on eliminating wordiness