How to Eliminate Wordiness
Tips to help you avoid wordiness in your writing
Do you find yourself writing sentences that are far too long? Have you ever re-read a sentence and struggled to finish it in one breath? If so, you may be suffering from something called prolixity, or in layman’s terms, wordiness. Wordiness is one of the most common ESL mistakes and happens when a writer, either intentionally or unintentionally, uses far too many words or unnecessarily complex or abstract words. Wordiness can seriously detract from the coherency and quality of your writing and will likely frustrate your readers. Below, we suggest several ways to help you avoid wordiness and increase quality.
One easy way to control wordiness is to limit (or eliminate) the use of ‘filler words.’ Filler words sneak between relevant words and though they may sound good, they are essentially useless. Take “It is commonly believed that…,” for example. The filler in this phrase is ‘commonly,’ as it serves no purpose. Leaving this word out would not change the meaning and would actually improve the sentence. Often, it is during revision that wordiness becomes apparent. For example, the phrase “Some experts commonly believe that…” could be revised to “Some experts believe that…” to make the sentence more concise.
Redundancies are another cause of wordiness. Redundant writing can take two forms: writers may include redundant words or redundant information. Redundant wording is most often found in descriptive writing. This occurs when writers attempt to describe something and overuse synonyms. Take this sentence: “Mark is a funny, hilarious, and comical person.” Here, three words that basically mean the same thing are used to describe Mark. The second form of redundancy is likely familiar to students worldwide. Redundant information occurs when writers say the same thing many times, but in different ways. Readers are forced to read more and yet learn nothing new. Redundant information often crops up in essays: “Scientists have found that cancer cells can be repressed through the twice-daily consumption of carrot juice. Carrot juice, when consumed on a twice-daily basis, has been found to repress cancer cells.” The two sentences, while written differently, contain the same information. Redundant information should be avoided in order to reduce wordiness in your essay writing.
Another thing to avoid is the overuse of qualifiers. Qualifiers come directly before an adjective or adverb and are used to either increase or decrease the quality of the modified word. For example, in the phrase “John is very cool,” ‘very’ is the qualifier. The overuse of such qualifiers can distract readers. Qualified words can often be replaced by a single, more potent word. For example, “Sue is extremely angry” could be shortened to “Sue is furious”. When every adjective or adverb is preceded by ‘very,’ ‘extremely,’ ‘barely,’ or ‘hardly,’ the qualifiers begin to lose their meaning. Always try to use one good word rather than two or three mediocre ones. This will instantly improve your writing.
This form of wordiness can be the most frustrating. Logorrhoea is the intentional use of long sentences or overly abstract wording. If you’ve ever read a post-modern novel, lab report, or law journal, you’ve likely encountered it. An author could say something succinctly in three words, but instead they’ve composed a sentence so laden with adjectives and qualifiers that readers will simply be confused by the time they reach the end. All of these extra words could unnessessarily compliciate expository writing. Here is an example of logorrhoea by a famous writer, George Orwell. He was deliberately satirising the use of logorrhoea in political discourse and wrote this as an example of a sentence with many words, but little meaning: “Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”
If your writing resembles the example, you may want to put down the thesaurus and remember that writing is about conveying a message. If your readers can’t understand what you’re saying, you should consider making your writing more reader friendly. If you find yourself unable to resist redundancy or avoid using too many adjectives, send your work to our English academic editors, who will help bring clarity to your writing.