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Writing Center

The Seven Deadly Sins of Writing

The Third Deadly Sin: Wordiness

Concise writing is the key to clear communication. Wordiness obscures your ideas and frustrates your reader. Make your points as succinctly as possible, and move on. As Strunk and White tell us in Elements of Style:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences.... This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.  (23)

Once you start searching for unnecessary words, you will find you can cut many without any loss of meaning.  In fact, your writing will be crisper and more appealing.  Remember: make "every word tell."
 

Strategies for Eliminating Wordiness

Use action verbs rather than forms of the verb to be (is, are, was, were).

wordy
The reason that General Lee invaded Pennsylvania in June, 1863, was to draw the Army of the Potomac away from Richmond.

revised (replace was with action verb invaded)
General Lee invaded Pennsylvania in June, 1863, to draw the Army of the Potomac away from Richmond.

Tip: As a first step in reducing wordiness, identify instances of this is, there are, and it is at the beginning of your sentences, and ask yourself whether you can eliminate them.
 

Make the real subject the actual subject of the sentence; make the real verb the actual verb.

wordy
In Crew's argument there are many indications of her misunderstanding of natural selection.

revised (replace subject there with argument; replace verb are with demonstrates.)
Crew's argument repeatedly demonstrates misunderstanding of natural selection.

Common sources of wordiness

Redundancies

My personal opinion, at the present time, by means of, the basic essentials, connect together, for the purpose of, in close proximity

Unnecessary phrases/clauses
  • The reason why is that
  • This is a subject that 
  • In spite of the fact that
  • Due to the fact that
  • in the event that
  • because of the fact that
  • until such time as
  • by means of
Passive voice

In most instances, it is better to put verbs in the active voice. Passive voice produces unclear, wordy sentences, whereas active voice produces clearer, more concise sentences.

wordy
In 1935 Ethiopia was invaded by Italy.

revised
In 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia. (more concise and vigorous)