Five Wordy Habits to Avoid
I’ve written before about why we are not strict about paper length at WriteAtHome. We give guidelines, but unless the paper is much shorter or much longer than we ask, we don’t make a fuss. We want students more concerned about how well they write than how much they write. When strict paper lengths are enforced, students often become too concerned with word count. They look for ways to add words that don’t contribute meaningfully to the paper.
Adding words just to meet an assigned paper length is known as padding, and it’s a bad habit that we don’t want to encourage.
Good writing is concise. Good writers don’t use more words than necessary. It doesn’t mean they skimp on details or creative phrasing, just that they normally look for the simplest, clearest way to express their meaning.
Below are five ways we let wordiness creep into our writing.
Flowery language is writing that seeks to amaze the reader with the writer’s intelligence. In most cases, simple and straightforward is best. Write to express, not to impress.
Wordy: At this juncture, it would be in the best interest of those in attendance here at this financial institution to elevate your metacarpi.
Concise: Alright, everybody in the bank, put your hands up. Now!
Deadwood refers to words that can be eliminated without changing or adding to the meaning of a sentence. These words simply take up space.
Wordy: The hotel was located in the nicer part of the city.
Concise: The hotel was in the nicer part of the city.
Wordy: The elephant grew to twelve thousand pounds in weight.
Concise: The elephant grew to twelve thousand pounds.
Wordy: Where is the pharmacy at?
Concise: Where is the pharmacy?
3Unnecessary Phrases or Clauses
Often, lengthy phrases and clauses can be reduced to a word or two to increase conciseness.
Wordy: I gave my car keys to my sister.
Concise: I gave my sister my car keys.
Wordy: I saw a man who was dancing ballet in a wheat field.
Concise: I saw a man dancing ballet in a wheat field.
Wordy: Despite the fact that Richard finished the race first, he lost on a technicality.
Concise: Although Richard finished the race first, he lost on a technicality.
4Started to… Or Began to…
A common bad habit is using started to or began to in sentences where the beginning of an action isn’t particularly being stressed.
Wordy: When Steven saw the shark, he started to shout and wave his hands.
Concise: When Steven saw the shark, he shouted and waved his hands.
Wordy: After her shower, Janet began to get ready for the dinner.
Concise: After her shower, Janet got ready for dinner.
Redundancies are words that simply repeat what has already been said. They are unnecessary.
Wordy: Mix the contents of the bowl together.
Concise: Mix the contents of the bowl.
Wordy: The team arrived at 7:00 AM in the morning.
Concise: The team arrived at 7:00 AM.
Other examples of common redundancies: return back, all-time record, forever and ever, join together, separate and distinct, over and above, descend down, visible to the eye, final outcome, over and over, repeat again, etc. For more detailed information on the issue of redundancy, see this series of articles.
Learning to eliminate wordiness is one of the most important revising skills a writer can develop. Before publishing or submitting any paper, look carefully for places where unnecessary words and phrases appear. Cut them out or reduce them. You’ll be amazed at how much unsightly fat can be trimmed from your writing.
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