Wordiness: Danger Signals and Ways to React

Written by Margaret Procter, Writing Support

One of the most efficient ways to improve your writing is to edit it for conciseness. You may have been struggling to think ideas through as you wrote, and piled up alternative wordings. Or you may have fallen into the habit of using more words than necessary just to use up space. If you can let your original draft “cool down” a while, you will find it easy to recognize unnecessary words and edit them out. Your reader will thank you! Here are some common patterns of wordiness, with sensible things to do about them.

Doubling of Words (choose one):

mutual agreement (agreement) future prospects (prospects)
consensus of opinion (consensus) reconsider again (reconsider)
whether or not (whether) inadvertent error (error)

Intensifiers, Qualifiers (omit or give specific details):

very really
extremely definitely
a considerable amount of to a certain extent

Formulaic Phrases (use a one-word form or omit):

for the purpose of (to) due to the fact that (because)
at this point in time (now) in the near future (soon)
with regard to (about) in view of the fact that (because)
as the case may be (—-) Basically, . . . (—-)

Catch-all Terms (can sometimes omit):

aspect field quality
case kind situation
fact matter sort
factor nature thing
feature problem type
weak A surprising aspect of most labour negotiations is their friendly quality.
improved Most labour negotiations are surprisingly friendly.
weak The fact of the war had the effect of causing many changes.
improved The war caused many changes.

Padded Verbs (use a one-word form):

to have an expectation, hope, wish, understanding, etc.
(to expect, hope, wish understand, etc.)
to make an arrangement, plan, decision, inquiry, acquisition, etc.
(to arrange, plan, decide, inquire, acquire, etc.)

Unnecessary “to be” and “being” (omit):

weak The program is considered to be effective.
improved The program is considered effective OR The program is effective.
weak because of the terrain being rough
improved because of the rough terrain

Passive Verbs (change to active voice, if possible with a personal subject):

weak It is felt that an exercise program should be attempted by this patient before any surgery is performed.
improved The patient should attempt an exercise program before surgery.
improved I recommend that the patient attempt an exercise program before surgery.
improved Mr. Lee, please do these exercises every day for six weeks to strengthen your leg muscles before we try any more surgery.
weak The bevelling jig is said by most users to be faulty.
improved Most users say the bevelling jig is faulty.

Overuse of Relative Structures (“Who,” “Which,” “That”) (omit when possible ):

weak The novel, which is entitled Ulysses, takes place . . .
improved The novel Ulysses takes place . . .
weak It was Confucius who said . . .
improved Confucius said . . .
weak I think that X is the case. . .
improved X is the case, as this evidence shows: . . .
weak There is a tendency among many writers who may be seen to display certain signs of lack of confidence that their sentences will be overloaded with relative clauses and other words which are generally useless in function.
improved Many hesitant writers overload their sentences with relative clauses and other useless words.