Avoiding Wordiness: Writing Skills Success Study Guide (page 2)

Updated on Aug 25, 2011


Another writing trap that takes up space is redundancy, repeating words that express the same idea or in which the meanings overlap. If you stop to think about phrases like the following— and many others—you'll see that the extra words are not only unnecessary but often just plain silly.

      enclosed with this letter
      remit payment
      absolutely necessary
      weather outside
      postpone until later
      refer back
      past history
      ask the question
      continue on, proceed ahead
      repeated over again
      gather together
      compulsory requirement
      temporarily suspended
      necessary requirements
      plain and simple

Enclosed means it's in this letter, doesn't it? Remit means pay. And how can something be more necessary than necessary? The weather outside as opposed to the weather inside? Past history as opposed to …? You see the point. Keep it simple. (Not plain and simple.)

Precise Language

Make your writing as precise as possible. In doing so, you communicate more meaning using fewer words. In other words, you make your writing more concise. Choose exact verbs, modifiers, and nouns to help you transmit an exact meaning, such as the examples in the following table.

Imprecise vs Precise

Abstract vs. Concrete

Abstract language refers to intangible ideas or to classes of people and objects rather than the people or things themselves. Abstractions are built on concrete ideas. Without a grasp of the concrete meanings, a reader can't be expected to understand an abstract idea. Journalists and law enforcement professionals are especially aware of the distinction between abstract and concrete as they write. They strive to present the facts clearly, so the reader can draw conclusions. They avoid making the assumptions for the reader, hoping the facts will speak for themselves. Concrete language requires more time and thought to write, but it communicates a message more effectively. Additional words are an advantage if they add meaning or increase precision



A cliché is a tired, overworked phrase that sucks the life out of writing. These are cliché phrases: a needle in a haystack, quiet as a mouse, crack of dawn, tough as nails, naked truth, hear a pin drop, and so on. Authors use clichés when they don't have the time or ability to come up with more precise or more meaningful language. Although clichés are a sort of "communication shorthand," they rely on stereotypical thinking for their meaning. A writer who uses clichés is relying on unoriginal, worn-out thinking patterns to carry a message. If the message is important, fresh language will make a stronger impression than old, overused phrases. Original language stimulates thought and heightens the reader's concentration. Moreover, a fresh image rewards an attentive reader.

Imagine that a writer wanted to explain how difficult it was to find the source of a problem. Look at the following two versions. One relies on a cliché to communicate the message, while the other uses a fresher, more original approach. Which version is likely to make the stronger impression, to communicate the message more effectively?

      Finding the source of this problem was harder than finding a needle in a haystack.
      Finding the source of this problem was harder than finding a fact in a political advertisement.

Here are more examples contrasting clichés with fresher, more original language. When you check your writing, look for ways to replace frequently used words and phrases with something fresh and original.

      We rose at the crack of dawn.
      We rose with the roosters.
      Having Sam at our negotiations meetings was like having a German shepherd's tail in your crystal closet.
      Having Sam at our negotiations meetings was like having a German shepherd's tail in your crystal closet.
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