“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”
By Jayne Bodell
When you use unnecessary words in your prose, you’re committing verbosity. At this point, I’m required to inform you of your writer’s rights. You have the right to remain silent. Any words you use can be used against you in the forum of Google+, Facebook, Twitter, or other forms of social media. If you choose to use these words, then you may have to pay for an editor. If you cannot afford an editor, one may be appointed to you.
Please don’t let the grammar police seize control of your computer. Try these suggestions. You’ll clean up your writing and never be accused of wordiness, again. Learn the triggers and edit, edit, edit.
1. Weak Verbs
Whenever you use is, was, has, have, exist, or believe, you’re using a weak verb. Like anything in life, you should use these in moderation. Weak verbs usually describe a state of being rather than an action.
Be aware when you start a sentence with, There is, There was, This is. Example: There was agreement among board members. Better: The board members agreed.
Using weak verbs may lead to a possible passive voice construction. Sentence constructs consist of two voices, active and passive. In active voice, the subject is usually the doer of the action. With passive voice, the subject is the recipient of the action. Active: Jayne wrote a wonderful blog. Passive: A wonderful blog was written by Jayne.
If you can change your wording to the active voice, you’ll make your writing succinct and strong. Example: The sportscasters reported that the game was won by the Packers. Better: The sportscaster reported that the Packers won the game.
2. Prepositional phrases
Not all prepositional phrases are bad. When you start stacking two, three, four or more phrases on top of each other, you’re in trouble. The major trigger words are of, and by. Example: One of the best ways of promoting your website is to use a form of blogging. Better: Blogging is the best way to promote your website. Or: Promote your website by blogging.
While you’re checking your prepositional phrases, make sure they are not misplaced. This may not cause wordiness, but it will cause confusion. Example: The cheerleaders stood watching the team in a straight line. In this sentence, in a straight line is a prepositional phrase and it’s modifying team when it should be modifying the cheerleaders (Misplaced Modifier). Better: The cheerleaders stood in a straight line watching the team.
3. Ponderous nouns
When you use words ending in -tion, -ment, -ence and –ity, the editing bells should go off. I’ll share this great example from one of my favorite writing books, Line by Line: How to Improve Your Own Writing by Claire Kehrwald Cook. Example: The inference that because high school graduates are more likely to be employed than dropouts, the differences may be attributed to the possession of a diploma is suspect since dropouts and graduates may differ in a variety of ways relevant to both graduation prospects and employment status.
Where is the meaning in this sentence? Weighty nouns like, inference, difference, possession, three forms of is, and numerous prepositional phrases cause too much confusion. Even though I start a sentence with “It is,” I can clean up this mess considerably. Better: It is not necessarily the diploma that makes high school graduates more employable than dropouts. Other differences may affect both their education and their job prospects. (Remember the sentence is labeled better, not best.)
If I was getting paid to edit, I would spend more time on the sentence. But I think I made my point. Feel free to take a crack at that sentence.
My first draft always has plenty of these wordy phrases with an emphasis on the weak verb problem. Academia and the scientific community seem to like the ponderous nouns. In all my reading, I’ve never found a reason why we write like this. Maybe it’s because our first draft resembles how we speak.
Blogging teaches us to write “in a conversational tone,” so we bloggers need to be even more vigilant in our editing. Conversational doesn’t mean sloppy. Use these suggestions to eliminate unnecessary words and make your writing cleaner and easier to read.
Monthly Contributor Jayne Bodell
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