Business Writing

Wordiness, part II

In my last tip I talked about some common causes of wordiness and how to fix them.

In my final paragraph I mentioned that you should become ruthless and edit your work carefully. Here are some more ideas, and some reminders of ideas I’ve given before, on how to do that.

  • Look for any of the standard phrases I’ve mentioned and replace them with a shorter alternative (see the table in Newsletter #41)
  • Hunt through your text looking for adjectives and adverbs. Ask yourself if they are providing useful information.

If they are not, get rid of them. She examined the evidence closely can easily become She examined the evidence without any real loss of meaning.

If the modifiers are adding useful information, try to find a single word you can use instead of the adjective + noun or adverb + verb combination.

For example, speak loudly might be better as shout, young person could be youth.

  • Read your long sentences and see if you can make them shorter. Of course, you don’t want all your sentences to be short. That would end up being dull to read (I almost typed quite dull but realised that quite doesn’t add any value), and you don’t want your writing to be dull.
  • Remember to read your writing out loud. This makes it easier to discover if you have too many words, or if you are repeating expressions.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can. The passive has its uses, but in many cases the active is better. The team drafted the report rather than The report was drafted by the team. Not only is active voice less wordy, it is more interesting to read than passive voice and it moves your writing forward.
  • Finally, check your writing for those pesky personal commentary words I mentioned last week. I believe, I understand, I think, etc. Most times you don’t need them.

My Most Important Editing Tip

When you are reviewing or editing your writing, avoid checking for everything in one reading. Decide to read the piece a number of times and focus on specific aspects each time. For example:
[table format=“1″]

First reading: Remove unnecessary passives
Second reading: Check the modifiers
Third reading: Focus on grammar, particularly subject-verb agreement
Fourth reading: It’s time to focus on punctuation.
Fifth reading: Think about the flow of the text. Do the sentences and paragraphs flow logically?
[/table] With experience you will develop the skills to focus on more than one aspect at a time. But after years of writing and editing, when a piece is important I go over it many times focusing on improving one thing at a time.