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