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