After Hours

10+ ways to reduce wordiness in your writing

When you streamline your wording, your message becomes more powerful and clear. Calvin Sun looks at how eliminating just a few superfluous phrases can tighten up your writing and give it more punch.

When you streamline your wording, your message becomes more powerful and clear. Calvin Sun looks at how eliminating just a few superfluous phrases can tighten up your writing and give it more punch.


Do you use too many words when you write? If so, you waste your time and your readers' time. You also make your writing less effective and impressive. Below are 10 examples of wordiness, with recommendations on reducing it.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: "There are/is [noun] [relative pronoun] [verb]..."

Remove "There are/is" and the relative pronoun. The sentence now becomes [noun] [verb].

Example: "There are some people who believe the movie is great." Improved example: "Some people believe the movie is great."

2: "It is [adjective] [that]..."

Remove "It is" and turn the adjective into an adverb.

Examples: "It is clear that the system has a problem." "It is obvious that the manager should resign." Improved examples: "Clearly, the system has a problem." "Obviously, the manager should resign."

3: "Very" / "extremely"

Remove these words. Keeping them weakens the impact of your writing.

Examples: "Proper planning is very vital to project success." "Lack of preparation was a very critical factor in his poor performance." Improved examples: "Proper planning is vital to project success." "Lack of preparation was a critical factor in his poor performance."

4: "Given the fact that..." / "In light of the fact that..."

Replace both phrases with "Because."

Example: "In light of the fact that that the project was cancelled, we're considering staff reductions." Improved example: "Because the project was cancelled, we're considering staff reductions."

Note: Be careful of using "since" as a synonym for "because," as the former deals with time and not cause-and-effect. Therefore, the sentence "Since you arrived, I have gotten better," means that my recovery came after your arrival. However, it doesn't mean that my recovery occurred as a consequence of your arrival.

5: "in the month of [month]..."

Simply remove "in the month of" and your meaning stays the same, with four fewer words.

Example: "Testing will begin in the month of May." Improved example: "Testing will begin in May."

However, phrases such as "city of New York" or "city of Los Angeles" may still be necessary to distinguish them from a similarly named state or county.

6: "color [in color]"

As in the previous example, simply remove "in color" from the sentence.

Example: "The car was red in color." Improved example: "The car was red."

7: "...timeframe"

Remove this word and shred it.

Example: "Testing will begin in the May timeframe." Improved example: "Testing will begin in May."

8: "...environment"

Remove this word and shred it, too.

Example: "The system will be installed in the building 26 environment." Improved example: "The system will be installed in building 26."

9: "have a/n [noun] on"

Remove "have a/n" and "on" and turn the noun into a verb.

Example: "He had an influence on my development." Improved example: "He influenced my development."

10: "on how to [verb]"

Remove "on how to" and turn the verb into its "-ing" form.

Example: "I read a book on how to drive." Improved example: "I read a book on driving."

11: "[noun 1] of the [noun 2]"

Remove "of the" (i.e., get rid of the prepositional phrase) and turn noun 2 into a possessive of noun 1.

Example: "You waste the time of your readers." Improved example: "You waste your readers' time."

About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

31 comments
Giraffin
Giraffin

Try http://www.prowritingaid.com it's free and it will highlight wordy sentences for you. Also reduced vague and abstract words. It uses some word list of diction problems from the us government. Really awesome!

rjh7
rjh7

Mine is "in order to" when "to" is sufficient - Only 2 words, but...

Too Old For IT
Too Old For IT

I remember a writing exercise from my first technical writing class back in the `70's. After we had a finished product, we were told to go through and cut out every tenth word. It was amazing that many of our documents were still understandable.

MUnruh23
MUnruh23

These are good - another example is 'in order.' Example: ?In order to complete the project on time, weekly meetings will be required.? Improved example: ?To complete the project on time, weekly meetings will be required.?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Use the active voice in your writing.

jdclyde
jdclyde

is from poor instructors that would require X number of words or pages in their paper, so instead of adding more content, they are allowed to get verbose with their writing and still not get marked down for it, which is really a shame if you ask me, even though you didn't, but you should have because I am right about which I write and I am just seeing how long I can run this one sentence on and on for as an example for all of what NOT to do, so it really does have a benefit as examples are powerful tools even if I seem like a tool for going on and on, but that is ok because everyone stopped reading this a long time ago anyways so it isn't like anyone will get this far and feel silly for still reading this, all the while wondering when it will end and why it hasn't up until this point, so I think I will put in the first period of the post so I can make a less wordy response. I do think that the OP has some very good ideas. In schools today, they realized how miserably they failed the last few generations, and are finally refocusing on writing instead of wasting all of their time on "literature".

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I agree with most of the examples offered, however a couple have reason for such intricate definition. [i]Example: "He had an influence on my development." Improved example: "He influenced my development."[/i] I see differences in when these would be used. If I was influenced by many people or even only partially by one person, I would be right in saying "He had AN influence on my development." Implying he wasn't the only influence of my development. By saying he influenced my development, you are implying that he could be the only source of your influence. 'HAD AN' defines a partial relationship. TIMEFRAME, Firstly timeframe is not an English word, it should be two words, TIME and FRAME, indicating a fixed period of time. "Time Frame" is a noun and is very useful. Certainly in the single example you noted, the use of time frame is irrelevant, but as a word it does not belong in the shredder at all. "an agreement can be reached in a reasonably short time frame" Here it has purpose and defines a period of time. Technically you could drop the word FRAME but it still has purpose. "An approximate time frame is specified for each unit of instruction and hands on testing." In the above, neither time nor frame can be dropped without the sentence losing meaning. Your examples of ON HOW are also rather weak. [i]"I read a book on how to drive"[/i] means something completely different than [i]"I read a book on driving."[/i] How to drive describes a lesson or instructional book. 'Driving' can be about the general topic of motoring but have no instructional purpose at all. "ON HOW TO" describes something as being instructional. While I agree that many such phrases are used incorrectly, they also have purpose and effect when used correctly. How about an article on learnign the correct meaning of words and phrases commonly used but rarely understood. Such as: The proper use if THEN and THAN, one of my most hated, American screw ups. the other on ethat is misused all teh time, I think because people don't tHINK abotu what they say rather than just parroting phrases they hear, 'I could care less'. This one cracks me up because it is uttered ALL the time by people who simply don' thave a clue what the the words they are saying actually mean. THINK about it! When people want to illustrate that they don't care at all, they say they could care less. Of course this means that they DO care somewhat. Instead of saying 'I couldn't care less', meaning that you care the least about it. So while we can debate the use of wordy sentences, which really makes little difference unless you have reading problems, the use of terms that people don't understand but use freely on a daily basis runs rampant. Even when spoken, these mistakes make you sound like a moron if you don't know what you are saying. I think we've done enough to strip the English language of detail and structure already.

jazzdiaz
jazzdiaz

Excellent article. I'd like to see more of these

dhays
dhays

I see taht some of us need to proofread our replies, as the typing leaves much to be desired, letters transposed, spaces at the end of words where none belong (th e), I am guilty of poor typing, but tye (try) to catch as many of my typos as I can. See the second word in this posting, it is supposed to be "that"

santeewelding
santeewelding

Just who authors, and is responsible for, all your insane notions.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

My turn. Your anaolgy is purely and factually flawed. Spoken and written English today is FAR simpler, less wordy, than English was 300 years ago. In fact 300 years ago, English was too wordy and thus it has been simplified and 'lazified' over the years, a great example is the English spoken by our American friends, about as simplified as it gets. Therefore, unless essays were forced to be 3 million words or more in the 16th century your logic is hopelessly flawed. People wouldn't be ABLE to be so wordy with essays if such anitquated phrasing didn't exist to begin with; its not new, it's ancient. Writing, I can see it in the future, kind of like taking Latin. "I'm studying 'The lost art of penmanship' in college; it's an acient form of hand manipulated scripture." A Bic pen will be in a museum for people all over the world to come and marvel at when we develop arms with keyboarding nubs on them for hands. "OOOOOOOoooh, but how did they make thier typing nubs move with such dexterity to manipulate an ink filled object on paper to create cursive writing by 'hand'?" "Mom, what are fingers? Did Grandma have fingers?"

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

Thanks so much, that means a lot to me. I'm glad I am able to help. You are welcome to follow me at Twitter, calvin_t_sun. All the best.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Gotta have something to be proud of... ;)

jim.lonero
jim.lonero

Yes, English today is less wordy. What will it be like in 10 to 50 years. Looking how texting is taking over, it seems that the English language will be reduced to acronyms. Writing will be much shorter but more will be left to interpretation. But, it can still get wordy: LOL change to L for laughing or HH for ha-ha, or, IMHO to MO for my opinion. You will be able to type it out faster (since the new keyboard are best manipulated using thumbs). I will hate to see this stuff on professional documents and in professional journals. Seeing it in blogs is bad enough.

jdclyde
jdclyde

as the man said earlier....

mafergus
mafergus

It was very purple. Good call!

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

There's more to it, which I can't post online though. Question is, am I wrong though?

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

"I'm glad I am able to help." "I'm glad I helped" "You are welcome to follow me at..." "Please read more at..." "I also post at..." "Read more at..." Wordy, wordy, wordy.

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

Thanks so much. If the article benefits you, then I am glad to have written it.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

When you get a fantastic idea only to have it so easily proven useless. Oh well, at least you can follow someone else and copy what he had to say, well done.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

First of all, seriously, just FO. I am so sick of hearing from you now with your petty bullsh1t, especially when you are wrong and title your posts as if you are cleverly correcting me all the time. Unlike yourself, I wasn't born in a country speaking some form of bastardized, pseudo-English. He had already been told he had helped someone and indicated knowing it by saying "I am glad I am able to help." It doesn't say I am glad IF I was able to help, it doesn't say I'd be glad to hear I had helped, he doesn't say I am glad WHEN I am able to help, he said I am glad [i]I AM[/i] able to help. indicating he knows he was able to help and it was in response to someone suggesting it did help. There is no assumption, it is recognized fact that he helped someone with his article. [i]"Excellent article. I'd like to see more of these" "Agree! Very good article and direction." [/i] Where's the assumption that he may have helped someone? Do't bother, I am not looking for another reply from you. I am getting so tired of your trolling evey post I make in some childish quest to prove anything I say is wrong, find a new hobby or go masturbate or something. Can't you just add me to your ignore list?

jdclyde
jdclyde

He is glad he is ABLE to help. That doesn't mean he actually DID help.... ;\ Your version makes an assumption his does not. :p

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Isn't that a bit wordy? Couldn't you just say, then I am glad I wrote it, instead of 'TO HAVE WRITTEN' ? :p