Eliminating wordiness is all about being concise, so only using the words necessary to make your point in a clear way. In other words, this means that if you can express an idea in five words, don’t use 10.
When revising a text, this means that all unnecessary words should be deleted until you are left with a clear, effective piece of writing that is not longer than it needs to be.
These nonessential words can be divided into four categories.
- Utility words
- Wordy phrases
So, let’s start with number 1, which is deadwood. The term deadwood refers to words and phrases that take up space but add no meaning, like this example:
There were a few experiences that supported her decision to change her life.
Here There were, and that really serve no purpose and a sentence without these words would have exactly the same meaning. A revised version of this sentence would look like this:
A few experiences supported her decision to change her life.
Another common example of deadwood is starting sentences with phrases like I think, I feel, or I believe, like in the sentence:
I believe that not enough money is spent on education.
Here I believe is not necessary to make your point because since you are the person writing the sentence, it is obvious that – unless stated otherwise – you are the person who has that belief and just writing Not enough money is spent on education, makes exactly the same point.
The second way to eliminate wordiness, is to get rid of utility words. Utility words are words that just act like fillers and, just like deadwood, do not contribute to the meaning of a sentence. They include:
- Words with imprecise meanings (Like factor, or aspect, etc.)
- Meaningless adjectives (Like good, bad, important, and so on), and
- Meaningless adverbs (For instance basically, or quite)
Now let’s look at look at the following sentence:
The financial aspect played a role in the decision.
The word aspect here adds nothing to the meaning of the sentence. Aspect means part or feature of something, so what the sentence says is something along the lines of the financial part of something. What the writer is really trying to say, however, is that money, or finances played a role, so that is what the sentence should be.
Finances played a role in the decision.
This much clearer.
The following is an example of how meaningless adjectives are used in a way that does not add meaning to a sentence.
This deal will offer many
good opportunities to make a profit.
The word good can be left out here because opportunities are always good. The word opportunity itself means favourable situation, so, again, good does not add meaning to the sentence and it should therefore be left out. So, the sentence should just be:
This deal will offer many opportunities to make a profit.
Adverbs can also be used in a way that does not add meaning. Like here:
Going along with the proposal was
basically out of the question.
The word basically is used to describe the essence of something to emphasize what the most important idea is in order to clarify a point. If something is out of the question, however, it is already clear that something is not going to happen. Basically does not need to add to that, and can therefore be left out. The revised sentence would then be:
Going along with the proposal was out of the question.
A third way to eliminate wordiness is to avoid circumlocution. Circumlocution means using roundabout way of saying something. Like here:
It is not unlikely that the virus will spread.
The phrase It is not unlikely is an example of circumlocution because the same meaning can be expressed by saying:
The virus will probably spread.
Here is another example using a roundabout way of saying something:
The suspect was in Paris
during the same time that the crime was committed.
However, the writer could have said the same thing like this:
The suspect was in Paris when the crime was committed.
Avoiding wordy phrases is another way of making your writing more concise, or less wordy. Similar to circumlocution, using wordy phrases is also about using more words than necessary to express a certain idea, but here the difference is that wordy phrases are often standardized expressions that many people feel sound formal or academic. Because of that, they are considered good style. However, they are not terribly effective. Examples are using:
Due to the fact that, which means the same as because. Or using Have the ability to, which could be written as Be able to, or choosing the expression At the present time when Now would do
Now, as a final example of using wordy phrases, let’s look at a one and see how it could be revised.
At the present time my client does not have the ability to comment due to the fact that he is part of an ongoing investigation.
This sentence could be rewritten like this:
My client cannot comment because he is part of an ongoing investigation.
So, to conclude. To make your writing less wordy, make sure you get rid of deadwood, avoid utility words and circumlocution, and check your work for wordy phrases.