How can I avoid wordiness in my writing?

Cut out the fluff!


Answer

Wordiness is a general term that professors use for a variety of writing tendencies that add unnecessary words to your writing. We'll cover some of them below. 

Note: The line for what is wordiness and what is a writer's personal style is often subjective. While most professors will agree on what is too wordy and what is simply the writer's style, some professors will be sticklers and some will be more lenient. Determine, on a class by class basis, what your professor prefers and make sure to adjust your writing according to their feedback. 

Redundancy vs. Repetition:

Repetition is when a writer uses either the same words or the same idea in the same paper more than once. Sometimes, repetition is a good thing. It can be used to impact the audience emotionally or emphasize the importance of an idea, word, or phrase. Sometimes, though, repetition can be unnecessary. When repetition doesn't add any new meaning to the writing, then it's redundant and should be removed. 

Example of effective repetition: 

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

--Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech

Example of Redundancy

Martin Luther King was a preacher who used his voice to champion the cause of civil rights for black people. He championed equality so that black people wouldn't be discriminated against in politics, the workplace, or in public. 

Explanation: The excerpt uses different wording, but the idea of Martin Luther King championing civil rights is repeated and unnecessary to the overall meaning. There are also several other unnecessary words that can be removed. 

Corrected Redundancy: Martin Luther King, a preacher, championed civil rights for black people to limit discrimination in politics, the workplace, and in public. 

Extra Words vs. Being Concise

In writing we want to be as clear as possible. Oftentimes, this means avoiding extra words that will make it harder for a reader to  understand the meaning of a sentence, phrase, or idea. Don't get "lost in the sauce." Be as direct and concise as possible. If you can write it with less words and preserve the meaning of a sentence, do so. 

Example of Using Extra Words:

In the fictional story that Hemingway wrote a very long time ago, there's a bullfighter who got hurt real bad, but he still wants to get back out there into the ring in Madrid so he can fight again and earn some money for stuff. 

Corrected Sentence:

In Hemingway's story, written in the 1920s, a bullfighter, despite a recent life threatening injury, looks for work in Madrid. 

Run-on Sentence

This is a grammar issue where the writer doesn't use enough punctuation in a sentence and attaches several independent clauses together. Avoid this by ensuring that independent clauses are connected together with either punctuation or a conjunction and sometimes both. Also, if a sentence runs on for three or four lines without a period, there is usually a way to break up the sentence into two or three sentences. 

For reference: an independent clause is a phrase that can stand as it's own sentence. A dependent clause cannot stand on its own, and must be attached to an independent clause in the sentence. Independent clause: Penguins can't fly. Dependent clause: Although penguins can't fly...

Example of a run-on sentence:

Penguins live in many different locations they can't fly they swim fast underwater. 

Fixing this run-on sentence:

1. Penguins live in many different locations, they can't fly, and they swim fast underwater. 

2. Penguins live in many different locations. They can't fly. They swim fast underwater. 

Comma Splice

A comma splice refers to a comma that connects two independent clauses together without a conjunction. To fix this, either separate the two independent clauses into two sentences or add a conjunction to the sentence. 

Comma splice example

The cicadas are very loud at this time of year, they come out to mate. 

Comma splice correction

1. The cicadas are very loud this time of year because they come out to mate. 

2. The cicadas are very loud this time of year. They come out to mate. 

Passive Voice

The passive voice leaves out the true subject of the sentence or attaches the subject at the end with the word "by." For example: "The homework was done" or "The ball was caught by the dog." Avoiding the passive voice can cut down on wordiness and make sentences more clear. For example: "Sam did his homework" and "The dog caught the ball." Avoid the passive voice unless specifically instructed to use it in your writing (lab reports will often use the passive voice).

 

These are only some of what can cause wordiness. See the attached links and video for even more detail and help with wordiness.

 

  • Last Updated May 16, 2024
  • Views 1
  • Answered By Timothy Connors

FAQ Actions

Was this helpful? 0 0