New Year’s Resolution: Trim the Fat

Although it is a very common conviction–and, indeed, a completely comprehensible one–that utilizing verbose, inflated language in the pursuit of academic excellence in the practice of written communication will impress those who dispense evaluations by way of a lettered grade, this misguided mindset results in merely mediocre manuscripts, and the resulting responses given by their respective educational overseers has left quite a number of pupils not only bewildered by the lack of an acceptably elevated score, but too often quite frustrated that their attempts at meeting academia’s professoriate requirements in written academic discourse fall significantly short of satisfying said professoriate’s expectations. 


How many times did you have to go back and re-read that sentence? I had to re-read it about a dozen times, and I wrote it! Translation: Say more with fewer words. Here are a few tips and tricks you can try in the editing process to make your writing more direct, concise and authoritative.


Eliminate Vague, Imprecise Language:

Speaker 1: The exam was kind of hard.     😦
Speaker 2: The exam was quite hard.        

Speaker 3: The exam was difficult.            

What’s the difference between Speaker 1 and Speaker 2?

If you said Speaker 2 is more direct, you’re right. He or she may even be more decisive. Speaker 3, however, uses a more precise word that doesn’t need an intensifier (quite), which wins the prize.  This is most important when writing argument papers. If you kind of or sort of think something, your reader will assume you aren’t sure, or don’t really know. You are trying to ride the fence and not make a decision – not a good thing when arguing a position.
Direct and decisive is best.

Other common words that rob us of direct, precise writing include

 lots, a lot, that, which (in some cases, not all).

Ease Up on Intensifiers:

Eliminating paper waste is a really good idea. (A better idea than just plain “good”?)

Eliminating paper waste is a really, really good idea. (Is it a better idea because they’ve used two “really”?)

Eliminating paper waste is a really, really very good idea. (Or is it simply just a very good idea?)

Often, when we start to pile on these intensifiers, the word they attempt to intensify isn’t strong enough (as in the first example, “quite hard”).

Eliminating paper waste is an excellent idea.

This sentence has omitted the intensifiers and utilized more precise language. You don’t have to eliminate these words completely, but only use when you really, really must. Better still, only use when you absolutely must. Best: only use when you must.

Other common words that could be omitted include

basically, totally, essentially.

Omit Bloated Phrases:

Due to the fact that snowy owls have lost much of their main food source in the Arctic, the rare owls are now wintering across Nebraska.

Due to the fact that is an empty, meaningless phrase often used in academic writing, but “because” is the better choice. Any time you can omit five words for one, do it. 

Because snowy owls have lost much of their main food source in the Arctic, the rare owls are now wintering across Nebraska.

Some other common bloated phrases include

for the most part
for all intents and purposes
as a matter of fact
in my opinion

And lastly, avoid using the adverbial forms firstly, secondly, thirdly. Number things first, second, third, if you feel you must number at all.

And finally. I mean, use the word “finally” instead of “lastly, ” and especially not “and last but not least.” The jury is still out on “in conclusion.” That is referred to as instructor preference, which means ask your instructor what they prefer.

Instructors: what do you prefer? Share you thoughts.
Any other common bloated phrases or unnecessary jargon we should mention?
What’s your personal pet peeve? Mine are New Year’s resolutions.








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