From time to time, we’re all guilty of letting our keystrokes run away with our thoughts in a stream of consciousness. Transforming run-on sentences into straightforward expressions requires close attention and skill, and when it’s time to prepare your writing for a target audience, making it concise can be the difference between engaging the reader and losing their attention. This doesn’t mean you need to stop to clarify every sentence when you write. As you read through your text before it’s deemed finalized, consider the following advisements on how to eliminate wordiness and keep your writing concise:
1. Don’t Lose Focus
Too many “side conversations” will certainly distract the reader and might even leave them confused. Each paragraph needs to have an objective, be connected to your broader thesis, and should be intentionally placed within your document as a whole. Organization is the key to remaining focused and writing logically. For instance, if you’re writing about politics on social media, don’t go too far into explaining Mark Zuckerberg’s personal life. Take this tip: write about one idea at a time and transition effectively.
2. Remove Unnecessary Words
This is the “fluff.” It occurs because of bad habits developed during our earlier years of writing. Have you ever been short of an obligatory word count and filled your paragraphs with superfluous wording? There’s a clear difference between an idea that needs to be further explained and an idea that’s been explained concisely. Introductory phrases or phrases that we think help guide the reader along are often unnecessary. Eliminating uses of “in order to,” “in terms of,” “the fact of the matter,” “the reason is because,” “each and every,” or “in the process of,” as a few examples, will add up and alleviate the filler.
3. Stay Active
Similarly, rephrasing sentences to be structured in an active voice—where the subject of the sentence is carrying out the action—will typically eliminate a handful of words and create something that’s much more coherent. For example, the following sentence has been changed from passive to active voice, trimming the word count and making it concise:
The french fries from the Burger Shack were being eaten by Courtney. (Passive)
Courtney ate the Burger Shack french fries. (Active)
4. Reverse Nominalizations
This happens more often than even the most experienced writers realize. Using nominalizations simply means using the noun forms of words that are meant to be used as verbs. So, for instance, you can say, “The investigation of the corruption case 872 was completed by Nancy.” But, it’s more concise to say, “Nancy investigated the corruption case 872.” Reverse your sentences and use the verb forms when possible. Sentences with multiple nominalizations can usually be pared down to the central verb.
5. Get Rid of Repetition
As you read through your paper, take note of—even highlight if possible—the words or phrases that are repeated multiple times. To make your text more concise, it’s crucial to realize that the reader doesn’t need to be reminded of something you already dictated; writing that uses the same words constantly can become annoying. Take this example:
Original: My boss asked me to reload the printer in our office. This printer wasn’t working, so I told the maintenance manager that it was malfunctioning.
Revised: My boss asked me to reload the printer in our office. It was malfunctioning, so I told the maintenance manager.
6. Use the Magic Number
People understand something better if it’s explained in a short list of organized points. The magic number is three. This is a trick relevant especially to scholarly papers. Use three steps, three categories, three sequences, or three bullet points. Organize each section into three sub-sections. Divide your graph into three data points. Layout your thesis into three features for discussion.
Readers will more easily be able to remember your content because it’s concisely structured, and because of this, they will look at your writing in a more favorable light.
7. Avoid Adverbs and Qualifiers
Excessive use of adverbs or qualifiers—such as really, very, basically, absolutely, etc.—can be seen as lazy and often worthless to your writing. Stumbling over too many “ly” words may cause the reader to question your authority on a subject matter or credibility with an argument. These types of words come by us so naturally and find their way in most conversations because of insecurities and the manners in which we verbally express ourselves. But, it’s important that our writing is concise and meaningful. Adverbs are easily avoidable by using a verb that’s more precise. We need to better illustrate what the action involves.
Example: My dog runs really fast through the dining room and awkwardly bumps into things.
Revision: My dog dashes through the dining room and whacks into things.
8. Place More Periods and Paragraphs
Especially for online text, writing that is chunked into large portions or extends full pages will undoubtedly be tiring for readers and overlooked.
Break up your writing into shorter paragraphs, even if you’re stubborn about your paper’s organization. Longer paragraphs should be cut into 3-4 sentences. By the same token, run-on sentences should be kept to about 25 words, or no more than three lines of text if possible. There’s a rhythm when we read, and by shortening sentences and paragraphs, people are naturally going to be better at following along and comprehending the text.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to read your writing out loud. It will help you identify instances where your sentences may be exhausting or particularly difficult to dictate.
Read and Revise
No matter how perfect you may think your writing has turned out, or how incapable you may think you are at revision, the tips described in this article will prove a useful stepping stone towards eliminating wordiness, being more specific, and transforming your writing into a paper that’s more concise and communicated in a much clearer way.