Tighten Up! Omit Needless Words & Phrases from your Writing

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Many writers, beginning and experienced, often inflate their sentences with unnecessary words, but strong writing is not complicated or wordy writing. Good writing is tight, concise, and to the point. Inflating your writing with superfluous words will lead to confusion in not only your sentences, but can also lead to a confusing message in your essay. Read on to learn how to tighten your writing and improve your sentences.

Eliminate Wordy Phrases

One of the easiest fixes to tighten your writing is to eliminate wordy phrases. Read over your essay to see if a wordy phrase can be reduced to a word or two without changing the meaning:

At the present time  Today our business has no deficit.

The end result is tragic if a patient is not treated swiftly.

The final outcome will be difficult to determine.

Because of the fact that NASA has cut funding, the space missions are in jeopardy.

 

Eliminate Empty or Meaningless Words

Read each sentence carefully to locate words that offer no essential information to a sentence. Some of the most common empty words in student essays are very, really, and definitely.

They were really trying hard to get the bill passed.

The paper was very interesting. 

The research definitely shows that meditation reduces stress.

If you find you use very or really a little too frequently, it’s often a sign that the sentence needs to be rewritten with stronger language. Note the changes in the revised sentence below:

They were struggling to get the bill passed.

The paper was fascinating.

The research confirms that meditation reduces stress.

 

Omit “It is” Constructions

One of the most common sentence constructions found in student writing is beginning a sentence with “It is” or “There are,” both of which create a subject-less, and often confusing, sentence. Look at the sentences below and consider what the “it is” might be referring to:

It is possible that the cause of her headaches is stress.

Revised: The cause of her headaches is stress.

It is worth pointing out that both governors were incorrect.

Revised: Note that both governors were incorrect.

It is clear that research supports his findings.

Revised: Clearly the research supports his findings.

It is often the case that initial experiments fail to prove anything.

Revised: Often initial experiments fail to prove anything.

 

Tighten sentences beginning with “There are” to clarify meaning and improve style by locating the real subject of the sentence. Below, the real subject of the sentences is underlined:

There are numerous reports of widespread corruption.

Revised: Numerous reports suggest widespread corruption.

There are only two questions left to answer.

Two questions are left to answer.

There are numerous studies that show the opposite is true.

Numerous studies show the opposite is true.

 

Before you turn in your final draft, take some time to work on eliminating any redundant, excessive, or unnecessary words or language from your sentences. Your ideas will communicate more clearly, writing will flow more smoothly, which means your ideas will be taken more seriously.

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Style Watch: How to Construct Effective Sentences

Part II: Conciseness

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In last week’s post, we discussed the importance of emphasizing important ideas in sentences. This week, we’re focusing on the other essential element in effective sentences: conciseness.

Conciseness is simply direct, succinct writing. Get to the point and use the most effective words to construct the most effective sentence. Although concise writing doesn’t always mean to use the fewest words, fewer words generally create tighter writing.  Take out the dead weight, meaning, omit any words that are not contributing something important, or are saying the same thing you’ve already said using different words.

Redundancy

Let’s consider the final sentence in the previous paragraph:

Take out the dead weight, meaning, omit any words that are not contributing something important, or are saying the same thing you’ve already said using different words.

The second part of this sentence could be reworded to use fewer words, as in the example below:

Take out the dead weight, meaning, omit any words that are not contributing something important, and avoid redundancy.

Saying the same thing you’ve already said using different words and avoid redundancy mean the same thing. The revised version is more direct, and the message is communicated more clearly. Fewer words = less confusion.

Redundant Phrases

It’s also common for writers to refer to a color or size, describing something as “blue in color” or “large in size.” In color and in size are unnecessary, as it’s a given that blue is a color and large is a size, right?

Here are a few more examples of redundant phrases:

Compulsory a Attendance during exam week is required.

The basic fundamental reason he won is he raised more money.

Eliminate Empty Words

Empty words contribute no essential information to a sentence. Some of the most common empty words in student essays are definitely, very, really, and literally.

The research definitely shows that meditation improves physical and mental health.

The paper was very interesting.  OR The paper was fascinating.

They were really trying hard to get the bill passed.

He was literally dying of his own germs.

Wordy Phrases

Many times, wordy phrases can be reduced to a word or two while retaining the meaning:

At the present time  Today our business has no deficit.  

The end result is death if a patient is not treated within twenty-four hours.

The final outcome will be difficult to determine.

Because of the fact that NASA has cut funding, our space missions are in jeopardy.

Replace Vague Words with Specific Words

Writers sometimes use too many vague words to express a concept when a more precise word would communicate more clearly.

Wordy: The governor talked about several of the merits of mandatory recycling in his speech.

Specific: The governor touted mandatory recycling in his speech.

Vague: The thing was to get as many volunteers as possible.

Specific: The objective was to get as many volunteers as possible.

As you can see, constructing effective sentences is one sure way of improving your writing immediately. Avoiding redundancy and eliminating wordiness will create clear, concise writing. Edit your sentences, keeping a close eye on each word, and ask yourself if each word is contributing to the meaning of the sentence. Concise writing is not always a matter of using fewer words, but using more effective words as well.

Practice Sentences

Make each of the sentences more clear and concise by eliminating unnecessary words and phrases:

1.    One of the major problems that is faced at this point in time is that here is world hunger.  

2.    At the present time, many different forms of hazing occur, such as various forms of physical abuse and also mental abuse.  

3.    I would call your attention to the fact that our former President, who was formerly the Governor of Arkansas, is basically a Southerner.

 

 (Some examples from The St. Martin’s Handbook)