Concise Writing: Cut the Fat!

overweight woman on an exercise bike

Many Americans (including me!) have bad eating habits. Too much junk food. Too much food, period! We’re overstuffed. We suffer health problems and image problems. We must cut the fat.

When our writing becomes overstuffed, our readers suffer through pages of boring narrative. And we suffer, too — our success is endangered. We must cut the fat!

Obese writing is nothing new. In The King’s English, published nearly a century ago, author H.W. Fowler begins the first chapter with these words:

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Pruning Prepositions

Winter pruning of an apple tree with secateurs.

How many times have writers heard, “Using strong verbs and nouns makes good writing”? Yet, how many times have we heard, “Overuse of prepositions makes bad writing”? It does. Prepositions are essential to proper English usage. They show a relationship between words within a sentence. However, flinging them onto the page uncensored leads to sloppy, a.k.a. “bad,” writing. Prepositions must be controlled.

Gardeners prune trees to eliminate dead or diseased branches and prevent overcrowding, allowing healthy growth. The purpose of pruning prepositions in writing is similar: Continue reading →

Avoid Backing In

Impala tail lights

We’re going to discuss “Breaking Bad Habits” in our writing during the next few Thursdays, beginning today with “Avoid Backing In.”

I gave my daughter’s friend a ride home once. We drove for several miles along a road that could almost be described as a pig trail. One narrow lane, deep ditches on either side, more dirt than gravel. Her home was perched on top of a low ridge. As we neared her driveway, she said, “How good are you at backing?” Continue reading →

Clearing Up Cliches


Our main goals as bloggers is to connect with our readers. The best way to do that is to give them an emotional experience. Since cliches are, well . . . cliches, little or no emotion is invoked when the reader reads them. In order to determine how to best rewrite cliched phrases, we must first consider what emotion we want to describe.

“Shaking in my boots” is a worn-out phrase that describes fear and dread. How else can we describe those emotions? One of the best examples I’ve read comes from Continue reading →

Weed Out Wordiness


Conversational style contributes to good writing. However, it tends to be wordy. Once we’ve written a piece, our next job is to cut it. Separate the wheat from the chaff — and let the delete key carry the chaff away. The first step is to recognize the chaff.

Certain words fly the red flag of wordiness. Prepositions, for instance, often accompany wordiness. Prepositions are essential parts of speech, but they must be limited and controlled. Here are a few examples of how to rewrite prepositional phrases: Continue reading →