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Avoiding Wordiness

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Overview: Although some students believe that using many words to express an idea makes their writing more sophisticated or poetic, that is usually untrue. Actually, the ability to write concisely is highly valued in most disciplines because conciseness usually increases clarity. You can make your writing more concise by cutting redundancies, unnecessary words and phrases, and the passive voice. While proofreading, remove any words or phrases that do not add necessary information to what has already been said. Removing extra words allows the reader to more easily understand what the writer is saying.

I. Eliminating Redundancy

Example 1

Wordy sentence: John hoped that his fellow classmates would collaborate together on the group project.

The word “fellow” is not adding anything to the sentence, since “classmates” makes it clear that they are members of the same group. Using both “collaborate” and “together” is also redundant since the definition of collaborate is “work together.”

Revised version: John hoped that his classmates would collaborate on the group project.

Example 2

Wordy sentence: Because of the fact that Corey wore a shirt that was green in color, no one saw the grass stains.

The phrase “green in color” is unnecessarily wordy since “green” is obviously a color. To simplify this sentence, we can remove “in color” and place the word “green” before shirt where it will function as a modifier describing Corey’s shirt.

Revised version: Because Corey wore a green shirt, no one saw the grass stains.

 

II. Eliminating Unnecessary Words and Phrases

Example 1

See Example 2 above: We removed the phrase “of the fact” from the wordy sentence because the color of Corey’s shirt is not up for debate.

Example 2

Wordy sentence: Immediately, if not sooner, all CSULB students in the beginning of their junior year who have not already taken the Writing Proficiency Exam must all become informed about the fact that they need to take the CSULB Writing Proficiency Exam right away.

This sentence contains a lot of “filler” language. “Immediately, if not sooner,” doesn’t make sense. Furthermore, “immediately” and “right away” are redundant. The words “all,” “CSULB,” and “Writing Proficiency Exam” are repeated unnecessarily. Finally, the phrase “become informed about the fact” doesn’t add any necessary information; students are being informed about the WPE by reading the sentence—if they can understand it.

Revised version: CSULB students who have not taken the Writing Proficiency Exam by the beginning of their junior year must do so immediately.

 

III.  Eliminating the Passive Voice

Example 1

Wordy sentence:  It is advised by the board that we go forward with the deposition.

If a sentence begins with “It is” or “It was” you should check for wordiness. The sentence above is in the passive voice, which makes it wordier than it needs to be. Eliminating “It is” from the beginning of the sentence and instead placing the subject (the board) directly next to the verb (advise) puts the sentence into the active voice and makes it more clear and concise.

Revised version: The board advises that we go forward with the deposition.

Example 2

Wordy sentence: [Capital punishment is believed in strongly by some young people] while [a wide variety of different opinions are held by others].

This sentence contains two passive constructions [in brackets] that can be reduced to one active construction. If we look for who or what is doing the action, we can find the subject and verb to reconstruct this sentence in active voice.

Revised version: Young people differ widely in their opinions about capital punishment.

 

Practice: Because starting the writing process is often the most difficult stage, you may use wordy filler language to jumpstart your writing. Mark sections or sentences of your writing that you struggled to produce. Then, use the tools modeled above to help you cut redundancies, unnecessary words and phrases, and the passive voice. When revising passive sentences, look for who or what is doing the action and put those two together to make an active construction.


Copyright (C) 2016.  All rights reserved.

This handout is part of a library of instructional materials used in California State University, Long Beach’s writing center, the Writer’s Resource Lab.  Educators and students are welcome to distribute copies as long as they do so with attribution to all organizations and authors.  Commercial distribution is prohibited.

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