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Column on eliminating wordiness

Make Every Word Count

by Stephen Wilbers

 

I created the following exercises to complement the 14 techniques of concise writing that I present in Chapter 1, “Economy,” of my book, Keys to Great Writing.

 

The following techniques will help you eliminate wordiness in your writing. Each technique is accompanied by three sentences for you to revise.

Edit for patterns of wordiness

1. Delete redundant modifiers

a. In this modern world of today, we must necessarily project ahead in planning for the future.

 

b. He referred back to the notes he had taken during the meeting.

c. We offer complimentary gift wrapping at no charge to our customers.

 Suggested revisions

 

2. Delete redundant categories

a. The table is round in shape, smooth in texture, and heavy in weight.

 

b. The image is fuzzy in appearance.

 

c. Redundant categories can leave your reader in a confused state of mind that is extreme in degree and perplexing in nature.

Suggested revisions

 

3. Replace redundant word pairs with single words 

a. Various and sundry alternatives were debated.

 

b. I demand a full and complete explanation.

 

c. Each and every one of the jury members voted “not guilty.”

Suggested revisions

 

4. Replace wordy expressions with single words

a. In the event that you arrive late, use the side door.

 

b. Prior to coming to First Trust, Kimberly worked at Waconia Savings and Loan.

 

c. Due to the fact that the report is more than 10 pages long, the council cannot help but feel overwhelmed by it.

Suggested revisions

 

5. Delete “hollow” hedges and meaningless intensifiers

a. We are rather concerned about your tardiness.

 

b. This effectively limits our ability to respond quickly.

 

c. Your description is altogether fitting.

Suggested revisions

 

6. Delete needless repetition

a. Although I wrote the draft, my friend Madeline helped me revise the draft.

 

b. I called to tell her I would be late for dinner. Nevertheless, she was unhappy that I would be late for dinner.

 

c. I don’t like pickled pig’s feet. I never have liked pickled pig’s feet. I never will like pickled pig’s feet. So please stop serving me pickled pig’s feet.

Suggested revisions

7. Delete that for brevity; retain that for clarity

a. I suggest that we pack our things, sell our snowshoes, and move to Hawaii.


b. She realized that, without that five-minute delay, she would not have missed her plane.
 

c. She believed her boyfriend, who told her he was out with the boys, was lying.

Suggested revisions

Know how to start; know when to stop

8. Avoid protracted introductions

a. It is interesting to note that our client base is growing steadily.

 

b. For all intents and purposes, we are losing money.

 

c. As a matter of fact, I’m concerned about the precipitous decline in visits to our website.

Suggested revisions

 

9. Use It, There, and What constructions carefully

a. There are four employees who have filed grievances.

 

b. It is my recommendation that you purchase a faster modem.

 

c. What we need to do next is simplify our sign-off procedure.

 

Suggested revisions

 

10. Trim sentence endings for closing emphasis

a. Does it stink like rotten meat would smell to you?

 

b. We need to eliminate the production delays we are experiencing.

 

c. Every employee should respond to complaints that our customers express.

Suggested revisions

 

Take the most direct route

11. Prefer action verbs to nominalizations

a. My suggestion is that we make an alteration in the length of the cloak.

 

b. If you make an attempt to steal the sorcerer’s stone, I will stand in opposition to you.

 

c. Coordinate the interface of eggs and vanilla.

Suggested revisions

 

12. Avoid indirect negatives

a. I haven’t ever heard of that rule.

 

b. I didn’t have any idea we were losing money.

 

c. The change in temperature was not significant.

Suggested revisions

 

13. Avoid needless attribution

a. According to the old saying, an empty sack cannot stand upright.

 

b. As everyone knows, the bigger you are, the harder you fall.

 

c. It has been determined that wordiness obscures clarity.

Suggested revisions

 

14. Limit personal commentary

a. The main thing I want to say is that haste makes waste.

 

b. To tell you the truth, I doubt that owls would be reliable messengers.

 

c. A temporary dip in the stock market, it seems to me, does not mean we are heading into a recession.

 

Suggested revisions

 

 

 


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Suggested revisions

 

Edit for patterns of wordiness

 

1. Delete redundant modifiers

a. In this modern world of today, we must necessarily project ahead in planning for the future.

a.In today’s world, we must plan for the future.

 

b. He referred back to the notes he had taken during the meeting.

b. He referred to the notes he had taken during the meeting.

or

He referred to his meeting notes.

 

c. We offer complimentary gift wrapping at no charge to our customers.

c. We offer complimentary gift wrapping to our customers.

Next exercise
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edit for patterns of wordiness

 

2. Delete redundant categories

a. The table is round in shape, smooth in texture, and heavy in weight.

a. The table is round, smooth, and heavy.

 

b. The image is fuzzy in appearance.

b. The image is fuzzy.

 

c. Redundant categories can leave your reader in a confused state of mind that is extreme in degree and perplexing in nature.

 

c. Redundant categories can leave your reader extremely confused and perplexed.

 

Next exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Replace redundant word pairs with single words

a. Various and sundry alternatives were debated.

a. Various alternatives were debated.

 

b. I demand a full and complete explanation.

b. I demand a complete explanation.

 

c. Each and every one of the jury members voted “not guilty.”

c. Each jury member voted “not guilty.”

Or

   Every jury member voted “not guilty.”

Or (for emphasis)

   Every one of the jury members voted “not guilty.”

 

Next exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Replace wordy expressions with single words

 

a. In the event that you arrive late, use the side door.

a. If you arrive late, use the side door.

 

b. Prior to coming to First Trust, Kimberly worked at Waconia Savings and Loan.

b. Before coming to First Trust, Kimberly worked at Waconia Savings and Loan.

 

c. Due to the fact that the report is more than 10 pages long, the council cannot
   help but feel overwhelmed by it.

c. Because the report is more than 10 pages long, the council feels overwhelmed by it.

Or
  The council feels overwhelmed by the 10-page report.

 

Next exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Delete “hollow” hedges and meaningless intensifiers

a. We are rather concerned about your tardiness.

a. We are concerned about your tardiness.

 

b. This effectively limits our ability to respond quickly.

b. This limits our ability to respond quickly.

 

c. Your description is altogether fitting.

c. Your description is fitting.

 

Next exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Delete needless repetition

a. Although I wrote the draft, my friend Madeline helped me revise the draft.

 

a. Although I wrote the draft, my friend Madeline helped me revise it.

 

b. I called to tell her I would be late for dinner. Nevertheless, she was unhappy that I would be late for dinner.

 

b. I called to tell her I would be late for dinner. Nevertheless, she was unhappy about it.

 

c. I don’t like pickled pig’s feet. I never have liked pickled pig’s feet. I never will like pickled pig’s feet. So please stop serving me pickled pig’s feet.

 

c. I don’t like pickled pig’s feet. I never have liked pickled pig’s feet.  I never will like pickled pig’s feet. So please stop serving me pickled pig’s feet.


Note: Repetition, as used in this sentence, can create emphasis.

 

Next exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Delete that for brevity; retain that for clarity

I suggest that we pack our things, sell our snowshoes, and move to Hawaii.

a. I suggest that we pack our things, sell our snowshoes, and move to Hawaii.

a. I suggest we pack our things, sell our snowshoes, and move to Hawaii.

 

b. She realized that, without that five-minute delay, she would not have missed her plane.

b. She realized that, without that five-minute delay, she would not have missed her plane.

 

Note: In a sentence with an aside, such as “without that five-minute delay,” “that” serves to mark the interruption and help the reader hold the thought.

 

c. She believed her boyfriend, who told her he was out with the boys, was lying.

c. She believed that her boyfriend, who told her he was out with the boys, was lying.

 

Note: Without "that," the sentence seems to be heading in one direction then goes in another. "That" signals to the reader a verb is on the way and the meaning will not be clear until it arrives.

 

This one is just for fun:

 

d. The challenge in offering a simple answer is that that that that that question refers to is an unusually nimble, hard-working word.

d. The challenge in offering a simple answer is that that that that that question refers to is an unusually nimble, hard-working word.

  

Next exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Know how to start; know when to stop

 

8. Avoid protracted introductions

a. It is interesting to note that our client base is growing steadily.

a. Our client base is growing steadily.

 

b. For all intents and purposes, we are losing money.

b. We are losing money.

 

c. As a matter of fact, I’m concerned about the precipitous decline in visits to our Web page.

c. I’m concerned about the precipitous decline in visits to our Web page.

 

Next exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Use It, There, and What constructions carefully

 

a. There are four employees who have filed grievances.

a. Four employees have filed grievances.

 

b. It is my recommendation that you purchase a faster modem.

b. I recommend you purchase a faster modem.

 

c. What we need to do next is simplify our sign-off procedure.

c. Next we need to simplify our sign-off procedure.

 

Note: The original version might be more appropriate for spoken communication,
because a listener assimilates information more slowly than a reader.

 

Next exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. Trim sentence endings for closing emphasis

a. Does it stink like rotten meat would smell to you?

a. Does it stink like rotten meat?

 

b. We need to eliminate the production delays we are experiencing.

b. We need to eliminate these production delays.

 

c. Every employee should respond to complaints that our customers express.

c. Every employee should respond to customer complaints.

 

Next exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take the most direct route

 

11. Prefer action verbs to nominalizations

 

a. My suggestion is that we make an alteration in the length of the cloak.

a. I suggest we alter the length of the cloak.

Or (to be more precise)

    I suggest we shorten [or lengthen] the cloak.

 

b. If you make an attempt to steal the sorcerer’s stone, I will stand in opposition to you.

b. If you try to steal the sorcerer’s stone, I will oppose you.

 

c. Coordinate the interface of eggs and vanilla.

c. Mix the eggs and vanilla.

 

Next exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12. Avoid indirect negatives

a. I haven’t ever heard of that rule.

a. I’ve never heard of that rule.

Or (for emphasis)

    Never have I heard of that rule.

 

b. I didn’t have any idea we were losing money.

b. I had no idea we were losing money.

 

c. The change in temperature was not significant.

c. The change in temperature was insignificant.

 

Next exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13. Avoid needless attribution

a. According to the old saying, an empty sack cannot stand upright.

a. An empty sack cannot stand upright.

 

b. As everyone knows, the bigger you are, the harder you fall.

b. The bigger you are, the harder you fall.

 

c. It has been determined that wordiness obscures clarity.

c. Wordiness obscures clarity.

 

Next exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14. Limit personal commentary

a. The main thing I want to say is that haste makes waste.

a. Haste makes waste.

 

b. To tell you the truth, I doubt that owls would be reliable messengers.

b. I doubt that owls would be reliable messengers.

 

c. A temporary dip in the stock market, it seems to me, does not mean we are heading into a recession.

c. A temporary dip in the stock market does not mean we are heading into a recession.

Back to first exercise

 

 


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