Updated: Feb 12, 2019
Recently, I was editing a document for a friend and continually stumbled across the same problem: she was using three words when one would have sufficed (and she kept saying ‘furthermore’ instead of ‘further’, but that’s a different issue). By the time I reached the end of the document, I felt drained because I was changing the same words or phrases over and over. When I asked her why she was wordy, she said it sounded more formal. This is a common misconception. Using more words does not make you sound authoritative. But this isn’t the only reason for rejecting wordiness.
Modern readers are fickle beings who like short grabs of information. They want text which they can digest quickly and move on from. So, if you are writing a buffet of text when the reader only wants an entrée, you are going to lose them. They aren’t going to make it to the dessert bar after filling up on the soup and bread, and then you have wasted all that time in the kitchen.
What are some of the more common words or phrases which you can eliminate from your diet?
The first to go should be the unnecessary emphasis words. These are words such as ‘really’, ‘just’, ‘very’, ‘quite’ etc. These words have been in frequent rotation for years, and no longer hold their emphasis. So, unless you are using them for rhetorical reasons as I did in this blog, then they have no reason for being in your text.
Secondly, watch the location of your prepositions. These are simple words like ‘it’, ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘at’ etc. They are usually found before a noun or pronoun and are usually sprinkled through paragraphs like pepper over a salad. But if not controlled they can take over and ruin the taste. Often, you can alter a sentence and eliminate unnecessary propositions, i.e. “the chief of surgery saved the surfer from Australia” becomes “the chief surgeon saved the Australian surfer.” The second sentence is succinct and packs more punch than the fumbling first sentence.
It isn’t just words which can be eliminated from a text; phrases need to prove their worth too. Some of the more common ones are:
For what it’s worth;
Needless to say;
For the most part…
This list could be never-ending, but you get the point. The reason these phrases should be removed is that often they are unnecessary and/or tautological. That is, they say the same thing as what succeeds it.
Finally, the key to being concise is the ability to edit. When proofing your work ask yourself
“are all these words earning their place?”
If the answer is no, then delete them. Then ask yourself “is there a better way to say this in fewer words?” If the answer is yes, then switch to the fewer words.
There are exemptions to these rules, like when using words or phrases rhetorically. Or sometimes, the ‘wordier’ word is better aligned with your personality than the cleaner version (like my friend who uses furthermore instead of further). If this is the case, then let the words be. But remember, ALWAYS, think of your reader because they are the ones who will either stop after the entree or come back for dessert.
References: Grammarly blog (2018). Why concise writing gets more readers [online]. Retrieved from: https://www.grammarly.com/blog Proofreading Pal (2015). How to avoid wordiness [online]. Retrieved from: proofreadingpal.com/proofreading-pulse