Omit needless words

You may think that using more words gives your writing flair, but it’s the quality, not the quantity, of the words that counts. Wordiness can make writing unclear, and impatient readers will abandon a story if they don’t understand something or if it takes too long to get to the point.

As good ol’ Strunk and White said, “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

Here are a few (made-up) examples of wordy sentences we can tighten and clarify by omitting needless words:

Example No. 1:

WORDY: As for whether the tablet was fast, the performance of the Galaxy Tab was speedy, and lag was seen on only a few tasks.

BETTER: The Galaxy Tab’s performance was speedy and lagged on only a few tasks.

WHY: The introductory part of the sentence is redundant. It’s also redundant to say both “the tablet” and “the Galaxy Tab.” Also avoid passive voice and extraneous prepositions (e.g.,”of”).

Example No. 2:

WORDY: The reason that the bunnies remained in the sanctuary is the researchers thought that if the animals were reintroduced into the wild, they would be eaten by predators.

BETTER: The researchers decided to keep the bunnies in the sanctuary for fear they would become prey in the wild.

WHY: There’s almost never any use for the phrase “the reason that” (use “because”; or, in this case, I used “for” to avoid confusion about what the subject of the sentence would be). Avoid passive voice (“were introduced,” “would be eaten”); it causes confusion and adds too many words. By shortening the sentence, we also can use “they” to refer to the bunnies instead of adding “the animals” to clarify we’re not talking about the researchers.

Example No. 3

WORDY: The fact that Apple will not agree to develop new software to help the FBI access the shooter’s phone is causing a great deal of debate.

BETTER: Apple’s refusal to develop new software to help the FBI access the shooter’s phone is causing considerable debate.

WHY: Avoid extra words. “The fact that Apple will not agree” can be shortened to “Apple’s refusal.” Moreover, “a great deal of debate” can be tightened to “considerable debate.”

Next week, I’ll expand on this idea by giving examples of how to deal with long, complex sentences.

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