Some people are stingy with money; others are stingy with time. Generally speaking, writers should be stingy with words, because one characteristic of good writing is conciseness. Concise writing means using the fewest words necessary to get across one’s intended meaning. All things being equal, the simple and straightforward way of saying something is usually better than the complicated and roundabout way.
For example, which of the following would you rather hear?
I have observed that the current state of your boudoir reflects a slovenly and neglectful attention to hygienic standards and therefore requires immediate corrective measures on your part.
Clean your room; it’s a mess.
I guess you might not want to hear this either way, but at least the second one gets right to the point.
The opposite of conciseness is wordiness. Part of growing as a writer involves learning to eliminate unnecessary words — trimming the fat from your writing, so to speak. As you do so, your writing will grow tighter, stronger, and more effective.
There are dozens of ways to increase conciseness by eliminating wordiness. Here are a few suggestions:
Well is a perfectly good word. It can be used both as a noun (e.g., I drew some water out of the well), or as an adverb (e.g., The quarterback played well). Well becomes wordy only when it is used as an interjection (e.g., Well, this is an interesting situation). Writing well at the beginning of a thought is like saying uh, or um when public speaking. It is distracting and unnecessary. It adds no meaning to the sentence, so it should be eliminated. Feel free to make an exception to this rule in informal writing or dialogue.
Due to the Fact That
This and similar expressions are unnecessarily windy. This five-word phrase is exactly synonymous with the simple word, “because.” Some other examples of complicated ways of saying simple things include: “with the possible exception of” (except), “lacked the ability to” (couldn’t) and “for the purpose of” (for or to). Avoid these needlessly long ways of saying things and stick to the simpler, more concise options.
Started To/Began To
Student writers have a curious habit, particularly when narrating, to include these verbal add-ons when they are not necessary. Instead of, “After taking a shower, I started to get dressed,” why not just say, “After taking a shower, I got dressed?” Instead of, “When I saw the bear, I began to run,” why not simply say, “When I saw the bear, I ran?” If the beginning or initiating of the action is what you wish to emphasize, using started to is fine: “As soon as the picnic blanket was spread, it started to rain.” But using these expressions needlessly clouds your meaning and adds fat to your writing.
Sometimes wordiness is stating the obvious (e.g., white snow, a happy smile, young children), or saying the same thing twice (e.g., wet boots soaked with rain, seven AM in the morning), or just including needless fluff (e.g., it is interesting to note, in my personal opinion, as I have said previously). Writers often get wordy when they try to use impressive vocabulary, but “We are experiencing precipitation,” is no improvement over “It is raining.”
As you write and revise, look for ways to tighten and streamline your writing. Cut out the excess. Keep it simple.
I like the way Dr. Seuss puts it:
It has often been said
There’s so much to be read
You never can cram all those thoughts in your head.
So the writer who breeds
More words than he needs
Is making a chore for the reader who reads.
That’s why my belief is
The briefer the brief is
The greater the sigh of the reader’s relief is.
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