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:
- in the event that: if
- on a daily basis: daily
- at this point in time: now
- a sufficient number of: enough
- members of the faculty: faculty members
Repetition and redundancy also contribute to wordy writing. Here are some rewrite examples to eliminate those pests:
- basic fundamentals: fundamentals
- past history: history
- end result: result
- consensus of opinion: consensus
- pre-plan: plan
- pre-heat: heat
Another culprit to watch for is sentences that start with words such as “in” and “there.” For example, consider the following passage and its rewrite:
- There was, indeed, plenty to see even in the fading light of an autumn day. There was a small lawn surrounding a fish pond and edged with crazy paving. There was a succession of trellis archways leading from one carefully tended plot to another.
- The garden presented a rich vista even in the fading light of an autumn day. Trellis archways separated the carefully tended plots, and a small lawn edged with crazy paving surrounded a fish pond.
Vague qualifiers and unnecessary adverbs (moved quickly verses “hurried” or “rushed”) also contribute to wordiness. Specificity can also become wordy. Words and phrases such as “most,” “many,” “what many describe as” seem specific, but are chaff.
- Educators meeting at a conference are discussing what many describe as one of the greatest barriers to educational change.
- Educators met at a conference and discussed one of educational changes greatest barriers.
The rewrite eliminated the unnecessary and is written in active voice, rather than the previous passive “meeting at a conference” and “are discussing.” It is likely that the conference will have ended when the piece is printed.
Other catch phrases to watch for:
- as quickly as possible: immediately
- give consideration to: consider
- have the need for: need
- start talking about: discuss
- was declared the winner: won
Practice eliminating wordiness by rewriting the following sentences and share your revisions in the comments section. (I know – they’re bad!):
- The fact that Harriet didn’t seek advice from Ozzie made him feel disappointed.
- He enrolled in this class in the view that fiction writing is a subject in which he takes an interest.
- Prior to moving to Houston, Charlie Brown lived in the city of San Antonio.
- Cinderella is of the opinion that her stepmother needs to make changes in her attitude toward her.
- Suzy Q thought to herself about the fact that there were three or four people in her class who said that the new science teacher needed to give a demonstration of how the new equipment functions.