Business Writing Tip#104—Wordiness (Part 2)

In my last post, which a number of people seem to have found useful, 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 tips on how to do that.

  • Look for any of the standard phrases I’ve included in the table Alternative Word List to Help Reduce Wordiness and replace them with a shorter alternative.
  • 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 try to 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:

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?

Roald Dahl on rewritingWith 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. It might seem as though it will be time consuming but, because you are only focusing on one aspect of the text each reading will be fairly quick.

Business Writing Tip#103—Wordiness

I’ve been reading some academic and business writing lately. It’s been a frustrating experience, mainly because many writers use unnecessary words.

Do you use more words than you need to?

Here’s an example of too many words being used to deliver a simple message.

Welcome to the new [company name] website. We have worked on improving the design and overall user experience, so you can navigate the site much easier and get quick access to what you are looking for. We welcome your feedback, so please email us at xxxx if you see a broken link, or feel that something should be reviewed or enhanced. We will do our best to refine your user experience.

How about…?

We have improved our website design so it’s easier and quicker for you to discover what you need. If you find any errors, or have any suggestions for our site, please email us.

Wordiness—the definition

Wordiness refers to using more words than you need to express what you mean.

Wordinesscommon causes and how to fix them

Everyone has a tendency to be too wordy at times. Think about these common causes:

  • Trying to sound formal or academic

Academic writing is well-known for using too many words. This does not make it good and recently many universities and colleges have introduced programmes to help staff and students write more clearly. Thankfully!

  • Failing to select precise vocabulary

Every time you use an adverb to modify a verb, look for a single word alternative. She shut the door loudly becomes She slammed the door. The result is more interesting writing, and fewer words. Check any adjectives you’ve included too and ask yourself if they are adding important information.

  • Using vague or unnecessary modifiers

Whenever you use the word very, think about what you’re trying to say and look for a better word. Very large might be huge, massive, humungous or even elephantine—depending on what is appropriate for your piece. Really and quite are other words which don’t add meaning, and several is vague. Use precise modifiers if you need them. I worked there for several years becomes I worked there for six years.

  • Filling your writing up with too many prepositional phrases

The representative of the company which won the contract becomes The successful contractor’s representative

The car belonging to the General Manager becomes the General Manager’s car

  • Relying on standard phrases

It’s easy to become lazy when we write, especially when we’re busy. We don’t mean to. It’s just that we have heard or read some expressions so often, over years, that they are built into our writing minds. That does not make them good. In many cases they are old-fashioned, and they make our writing seem overly formal. There are too many of these to mention! You can download a table here of some common standard phrases and less-wordy alternatives.alternate word list

  • Unnecessary personal commentary

I believe, I understand, I think, I just want to emphasise often aren’t needed to make your point.

Finding wordiness in your writing

The best way to check if your writing is too wordy is to read it aloud. Listen to how it sounds, sentence by sentence. Edit your work carefully and become ruthless when you find too many words.

Business Writing Tip #102—Compound Nouns

Olympic Park at Letna

Olympic Park at Letna

In the past few weeks, and most recently today, people have asked me about compound nouns. With the Winter Olympics underway, and one of Prague’s beautiful parks converted into a snowy playground complete with ice rinks, I thought it was timely to write about word combinations, compound nouns, like ‘ice rink’.

Unfortunately there are no rules for how we form compound nouns. Learners of English just need to learn them as expressions.

What is a compound noun?

It’s an expression that’s made up of more than one word, which functions as a noun when you use it in a sentence. I’ll now look at some common types.

Noun + Noun

Some of them are made up of noun + noun and they tell us something about what something is made of, where it is, when something happens or what someone does. Some examples include:

Orange juice, waste paper, ice rink, office desk, morning call, language teacher, working party, company merger, conference call, sales team, marketing strategy, personal computer, head hunter, executive director, delivery date, trade union, retail outlet, trade fair, market research, address book.

Usually the first noun in a noun + noun combination is singular, but there are some exceptions: savings account, customs officer, clothes shop, arts festival

Sometimes they can include more than two nouns: air-traffic controller, value added tax

Sometimes they are written as two words like the examples above, but at other times they are joined and written as one word, or perhaps joined with a hyphen (although in most cases the hyphen is optional).

One word: chairperson, keyboard, network, greenhouse, deadline, overhead

Hyphenated: office-worker, changing-room.

Noun + Preposition + Noun

English also has compound nouns that are made up of two nouns joined by a preposition.

Cup of tea (compare with teacup)

Pack of cards

Adjective + Noun

Then we have some that are formed from an adjective + noun.

Shorthand, special delivery, highway, freeway

Noun + -ing, -ing + Noun

And finally there are some which are formed by combining the –ing form of a verb with a noun. Sometimes the verb comes before the noun, and sometimes after.

Before:           living room, working party, swimming pool, washing machine

After:              film-making, risk-taking, life-saving

Pesky prepositions getting in on the act

Another group of compound nouns is made up of verbs + prepositions/adverbs (and the order varies as does the need for a hyphen).

Break-out, intake, outcome, read-out, check-in, handover

I hope this post hasn’t confused you too much. Compound nouns are tricky. When I’m not sure how a one is written I find the dictionary is my best friend!

Be careful to check what part of speech the word is being used as because sometimes we might use the same combination of words as a noun and as a verb, and often the only difference is whether there’s a hyphen or not, of if it’s written as one word or two.

For example:

Noun: double check            Verb: double-check

Noun: markup                     Verb: mark up

Noun: write-off                    Verb: write off





A colleague pointed me toward this blog from Target Training today. If you’re looking for phrases to use in emails for a variety of situations, there are some great suggestions here. Whether you’re saying goodbye to someone whose leaving the company, expressing congratulations or just want tips on how to be polite in emails, this blog is definitely worth a visit.

Business Writing Tip #101—Reference Words

In my last post I talked about signposts—words which help us find our way through a text. In this post I will look at another device we use to show connections between pieces of information in a text—reference words. Using reference words also allows us to avoid repeating words, sentences and, even occasionally, whole paragraphsrefwords

The main challenge when we use reference words is to make sure that it’s clear what the reference word refers to … but first what do these words do?

Using reference words helps us make our text cohesive. They are words that point backwards or forwards to other words or concepts that have already appeared in the text or are about to appear. Basically they are used to:

  • Refer back to people, objects and ideas that have been mentioned earlier, or
  • Refer forward to people, objects and ideas that will be mentioned later.

There are two important things to remember about reference words.

  1. Reference words cannot stand alone. They must connect with other words to complete their meanings.
  2. They are used when new information is added about the things that they refer to.

Click here for a downloadable table of common reference words with details of how we use them and some examples.

Business Writing Tip #100—Signposts

You may have noticed that I’ve mentioned signposts a couple of times. Just as it is useful to have signposts to show us the way when we’re travelling, signposts show our readers the way with our writing.signpost syria

We can divide signposting language into two broad categories:

  1. Major signposts that signal key aspects of the work, such as purpose, structure, the author’s stance, main points, direction of the argument, conclusions.
  2. Linking words and phrases that show connections between sentences and paragraphs.

Here are some lists of signpost words.

Linking words

  • The aim of this study/report is to …
  • The purpose of this thesis is to …
  • This essay argues that …
  • The main questions addressed in this paper are …
  • This essay critically examines …
  • The above discussion raises some interesting questions.
  • This paper begins by … It will then go on to … Finally, …
  • This chapter reviews the literature …
  • In conclusion, …

Words to connect ideas

Try these words or phrases when you want to:

Give an example Add a thoughtEmphasise a thought
For example
For instance
In fact
That is
In other words
In particular
First, second, third, and so on
As well
A further factor to consider
In addition
What’s more
In this way
In fact
As a matter of fact
As you can see
Give credit to another point of view Sum up a series of ideasMention items in chronological order
Even though
Of course
To be sure
In short
In brief
To sum up
In summary
First, second, third, and so on
Since then
Show cause and effectCompare items or ideasContrast items or ideas
As a result
Just as
In the same way
On the other hand
On the contrary
In contrast
Mention items in order of degreeUse a spatial orderGive a reason
Most importantly
In addition
First, second, third, and so on
Next to
In front of
To the right
To the left
In between
For this reason
Because of
Due to
Reformulate an idea
In other words
To put it simply
That is
To paraphrase