We all get unnecessarily wordy. I am the wordiness queen—ask my husband, he will verify this. Yet while I struggle to remain concise in my own communication, I can edit out wordiness.
Repetitive paragraph? delete.
Reader has already gotten your point so the extra explanation is unnecessary? delete.
Unnecessary words in a sentence? delete.
In another post I will discuss redundancies, but here I want to focus on unnecessary words and phrases you can cut (see the revision I made here).
Note that reducing wordiness does not mean getting rid of all long sentences. Long sentences have their place; in fact, a long sentence is not necessarily wordy. Wordy sentences generally use lots of little words or contain unnecessary words, which could occur in short sentences too. So don’t be afraid to use long sentences when the situation calls for it; just make sure those long sentences don’t contain a lot of little or unnecessary words.
Words and Phrases to Cut
Qualifying words, like “really,” “very,” “quite,” are often unnecessary. “Often” is a qualifier; however, in this case, here, I felt it important to qualify, indicating that sometimes they may be necessary.
Not Needed: I felt really sad.
Could change to: I felt depressed. (depressed means really sad)
Or could just be: I felt sad. (If you weren’t actually depressed and were really just sad, you don’t need to add really.)
Not needed: I was very hungry.
Could change to: I was starving. (starving means very hungry)
Or could just be: I was hungry. (If you’re just plain, normal hungry, then just say so.)
Prepositions show location, time, and place: “of,” “under,” “from,” “above,” “at,” etc. You can often replace propositional phrases with one-word modifiers or just reword to avoid using them.
Original 18 words: The president [of the student body] decided to combine their homecoming dance [with the one] [at Neptune High].
Rewritten 10 words: The student body president combined homecoming dances with Neptune High. (Went from three prepositional phrases to one by using a modifier in front of president and rewording the ending to avoid the prep phrase)
Original 15 words: The focus [of my blog] is to see the effects [of wordiness] [in your manuscript].
Rewritten 9 words: This blog shows how wordiness negatively affects your manuscript. (went from three prepositional phrases to none by rewording to avoid)
Original 9 words: The girl teetered along the edge [of the cliff].
Rewritten 7 words: The girl teetered along the cliff’s edge. (went from one prep. phrase to none by using a one-word modifier)
Using verbs or adjectives as a noun. These words often end in “-ion,” “-ment,” “-ity/ty,” or “ness.” To reduce wordiness, convert nominalizations back into verbs.
Original 9 words: I made the decision to write this blog now.
Rewritten 7 words: I decided to write this blog now.
Original 14 words: It is my recommendation that you try each of these habits for one week.
Rewritten 9 words: I recommend you try each habit for one week. (Bonus, I also got rid of an unnecessary prepositional phrase and the phrase “it is.”)
Original 18 words: I want to stop having arguments about who cleans what and just start cleaning the kitchen after dinner.
Rewritten 14 words: Let’s stop arguing over who cleans what and just clean the kitchen after dinner.
Using verbs as adjectives. To reduce wordiness, convert them back into verbs.
Original 10 words: Seeing these can clearly be indicative of a wordy sentence.
Rewritten 7 words: Seeing these can indicate a wordy sentence.
Original 14 words: I was successful in getting my daughter to bed so I could continue writing.
Rewritten 13 words: I succeeded in getting my daughter to bed so I could continue writing.
In order to
You often do not need to say “in order to.” “To” works just fine.
Original 13 words: He put all his effort in the assignment in order to impress her.
Rewritten 11 words: He put all his effort in the assignment to impress her.
Expletive constructions: There are/there is/it is/it was
I edit out these constructions a lot. Sometimes using them is the best way to construct the sentence, but often they are unnecessary, wordy phrases. (note: I used “they are” in that sentence; again, they aren’t always bad.)
While my rewording does not always reduce the word count, it uses stronger word choice, making the sentence more active.
Original 8 words: There were toys scattered all over the room.
Rewritten 7 words: Toys were scattered all over the room.
Original 12 words: There is going to be a lot of people at this event.
Rewritten 7 words: Lots of people will attend the event.
Original 5 words: It is fun to write.
Rewritten 3 words: Writing is fun.
Original 12 words: There are two other factors to consider as you plan your trip.
Rewritten 12 words: You need to consider two other factors as you plan your trip.
I didn’t reduce word count on that last example, but the sentence seems less wordy because it doesn’t have the wordy sounding “there are.” Plus, “there are” constructions are considered weaker writing.
*Note when the expletive “there” and “it” are referring to a subject in a previous sentence, you can usually leave those ones. Again, the construction isn’t always bad.
Which or that constructions
Omit “which” or “that” phrases when possible.
Original 12 words: The cafeteria, which was new and spacious, served better food than before.
Rewritten 9 words: The new, spacious cafeteria served better food than before.
Original 12 words: The sheet that is the most efficient and organized is my scheduler.
Rewritten 8 words: The most efficient, organized sheet is my scheduler.
Methods to Reduce Wordiness
*This at start of sentence. Since the word “this” at the start of a sentence refers to information in the last sentence, you can just combine them.
Original 18 words: My nanny now cleans for one hour. This has allowed me to spend more time with my kids.
Rewritten 16 words: My nanny now cleans for one hour, allowing me to spend more time with my kids.
*Use a colon. When you have a sentence explaining or exemplifying the previous sentence, you can combine them with a colon.
Original 25 words: The swing dance scene has many dance styles. These styles are east coast swing, west coast swing, lindy hop, shag, charleston, jive, and jitter bug.
Rewritten 22 words: The swing dance scene has many dance styles: east coast swing, west coast swing, lindy hop, shag, charleston, jive, and jitter bug.
*Use –ing words. You can use –ing words to combine ideas found in two sentences.
Original 14 words: The crowd pushed away in different directions. There were now only two people remaining.
Rewritten 11 words: The crowd pushed away in different directions, leaving only two people.
*Omit part of one. Sometimes you can easily omit part of one of the sentences and combine them to get a complete thought.
Original 30 words: Many people get confused with taxes. Typical points of confusion occur when configuring allowances on their W4, determining which filing status to use, and knowing how to fill out forms.
Rewritten 23 words: Many people get confused when configuring allowances on their W4, determining which filing status to use, and knowing how to fill out forms.
Avoid passive voice
Sometimes passive voice is the right way to write a sentence, especially when the doer isn’t what you want to emphasize or the previous sentence’s subject is the object of the next sentence, so you want to put the object first to help flow. However, passive voice is wordier than active voice, so if you don’t need to use passive voice, then switch to active.
Original 7 words: This blog post was written by me.
Rewritten 5 words: I wrote this blog post.
Original 7 words: The town was destroyed by a fire.
Rewritten 5 words: A fire destroyed the town.
Replace continuous or perfect tenses with simple tenses
*The continuous tense shows an action that is, was, or will be in progress at a certain time. The continuous tense is formed with the verb “be”+ -ing form of the verb.
* The perfect form shows a completed, or “perfected,” action or condition. The perfect verb is formed with the word “have” or “had” + the past participle.
Original 7 words: She is working at the firm now.
Rewritten 6 words: She works at the firm now.
Original 6 words: He had decided to go home.
Rewritten 5 words: He decided to go home.
Reducing wordiness does require assessing the context. While you could avoid the prepositional phrase, get rid of “there are,” change the verb tense to a simple one, or any of the other strategies, sometimes the original is better for the given context. However, when you can, no one will complain if you reduce your word count, and it often leaves a stronger impact.
See if you can find a sentence in this blog that could benefit from reducing wordiness and post your rewrite in the comments.
Katie Chambers, owner of Beacon Point, is a nonfiction and fiction substantive (developmental) editor and copy editor for independent authors, content writer and editor for business professionals, online teacher, and professional speaker.
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