Posted by: Jodi | April 21, 2010

More matter with less art

Polonius, an example of literary wordiness

As suggested by the title, this week’s language usage lesson addresses a pet peeve of mine – wordiness.   Defined simply, “wordiness” is using more words than necessary to make your point.   Eliminating excessive, confusing, or redundant words from your sentences can make the meanings clearer.  Clearer writing equals stronger writing.

Attack wordiness using these techniques:

1. Use one precise word instead of several little words

Wordy: She runs as a means of reducing stress
Revised: She runs to reduce stress.

Wordy: He is eating a salad due to the fact that he is on a diet
Revised: He is eating a salad because he is on a diet.

2.  Use active voice instead of passive voice (be + past participle)

Passive: The boy was bullied by the girl.
Active: The girl bullied the boy.

Passive: Mrs. Trunchbull was defeated by Matilda.
Active: Matilda defeated Mrs. Trunchbull.

3.  Avoid nominalizations (expressing action with nouns instead of verbs)

Wordy: The basis of the achievement of your goal is the development of a positive attitude.
Revised: To achieve your goal, you must develop a positive attitude.

4.  Use strong verbs

Wordy: In order to learn the location of the chocolate I made use of a hidden camera.
Revised: To learn the location of the chocolate I used a hidden camera.

5.  Avoid beginning sentences with “to be” phrases.

(“To be” phrases include expressions like “there are,” “there is,” “there were,” “it is,” and “it was.”)

Wordy:  There were many different colors that the polo shirt came in
Revised: The polo shirt came in many different colors.

Wordy:  It was his decision to practice law.
Revised: He decided to practice law.

6.  Avoid redundancies

Phrases like “red in color,” “past history,” and “puzzling in nature” are redundant.  Red is a color, history is always in the past, and using “in nature” anywhere is unnecessary.

Click here for a big list of common redundancies

7.  Eliminate “buzzwords”

“Buzzwords” are abstract vague words that sound like they mean something but don’t contribute anything of substance to the sentence.

Wordy: Those types of dogs are really quite difficult to train.
Revised: Dalmatians are hard to train.

Wordy: Needless to say, she was basically a great person.
Revised:  She was a great person.

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

— William Strunk Jr.
in Elements of Style

We’ll finish with a quote from Hamlet’s Polonius, one of my favorite wordy characters:

My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
What day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time;
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief. Your noble son is mad. . . .

Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 86–92

< Click here to see last week’s grammar post

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Responses

  1. Well said!

  2. Excellent post ~ precise ending:

    Your noble son is mad.

    Loved it! Thanks

  3. Great post, I have come to realize that I write with a passive voice too often.. will have to bookmark this .. .maybe use it (link to it) for a post in my blog, if I may?

    • That was precisely the reason I choose this topic for today, not because you write in passive too often, but because I certainly do! You are always welcome to link to my blog, I love new visitors.

  4. Great list! This was extremely helpful, thank you Tsuchigari.

  5. OK, OK! I get the message, but, as I said on the first post of my blog, I do not edit – because this is entirely stream of consciousness. I write and speak the way I think, and never edit it (except occasionally for typos). I will say that every word you have written is absolutely true, and it is something I generally pay attention to…just don’t expect a short, concise, cogent read when you visit my blog! 😀 Thanks for the heads up!

    • And steam of consciousness is totally alright as long as your readers have paddles. My stream tends to get off course if I let it free, something to do with my focus issues (some people call them children).

      • You are right, I can wander a little off course, but I usually start with my post title and go from there in the general direction I have mapped out – but AMEN to the paddles comment…they can help – esp. when you have a long stream to paddle through (or up!!). I would love to see a post on punctuation and their overuse and/or misuse. Have you ever done a post on that topic? As you can see, I am aficionado of “…”, ” “, “-” , “( )” , in addition to italics, bold type and caps. But I attribute that to at attempt to accent the writing in the way I speak. I’m not Italian, but I converse like one…also have to use my hands, but it’s hard to type that in…maybe I could try! Perhaps introducing more parenthetical comments such as (hand wave), (fist upraised), (arms akimbo), etc. I am trying to be funny, but I’m not even succeeding with myself on that one! 😀

        • I did do a post on semicolons a few weeks back, check the grammarland category for others. Next Wednesday I’ll cover overused comma usage. Thanks for ideas and suggestions, I always appreciate having ideas to post about!

  6. Possibly Shakespeare’s most-quoted character, and most of the people doing the quoting aren’t aware that he’s supposed to sound like an idiot…

    • And what a delightful idiot he is! Just because it’s Shakespeare doesn’t mean it can’t be a bit silly at times.

  7. […] More Matter with Less Art: All about being more concise in writing […]

  8. […] < To see last week’s language usage post, click here […]


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