Avoid wordiness

There are many ways of avoiding wordiness: what we give below are a few basic guidelines.

Cut the clutter
Avoid circumlocutions
Avoid 'padding' words and tautologies
Avoid unnecessary determiners, qualifiers and modifiers
Change clauses into phrases and phrases into single words
Avoid using nown formulations for verbs
Avoid repetition or excessive detail

Cut the clutter

Words are a bit like trees - too many and they hinder you from seeing the wood. Good writers develop a concise style, which avoids redundant words. A good tip for editing a draft is to go through it and cross out any words which don't add to the meaning, while at the same time looking for more concise ways of saying the same thing.

Look at the edited version of the following sentence:

Original version:

Vocabulary acquisition is naturally a basic skill for all language students and much research has been done in this domain at all levels from ab initio to advanced study (Chesters et al. 1992, Meara, 1997). A group of academics within the French Department decided upon the idea of designing a micro-computer program that would allow students to learn French vocabulary in such a way, that:

a) the learning would be faster
b) the lecturer input would be less
c) the effectiveness of learning would be enhanced

Edited version:

Vocabulary acquisition is a basic skill for all language students, and is the subject of research at all levels from ab initio to advanced study (Chesters et al. 1992, Meara, 1997). A group of academics within the French Department decided to design a micro-computer program to help student to learn French vocabulary faster, more effectively, and with less lecturer input.

Avoid circumlocutions

When you write, it is very easy to conflate your writing by using words which don't really mean anything. These forms of words are known as circumlocutions and here are some examples, together with simpler ways of expressing the same idea:

It is possible that May, might, could
There is no doubt that Doubtless
Used for...purposes Used
He is a man who... He
In a hasty manner Hastily
At this point in time Now/then
In the near future Soon
Prior to, in anticipation of, following on, at the same time as Before, after, as
Notwithstanding the fact that, despite the fact that Although
Concerning the matter of About
The reason for, owing to the reason that, on the grounds that Because, since, why
If it should transpire that, in the event that If
With regard to About
Owing to the fact that, due to the fact that, in view of the fact that Since, because
This is a subject which This subject
In a situation in which When
Is able to, has the capacity to Can
On the occasion of When
For the purpose of To
The question as to whether Whether

Avoid 'padding' words and tautologies

There are some other words of this type which are pure padding and can be omitted - for example, 'basically', or 'current' as in 'the current chairman' when you are not referring to past or future chairmen.

Tautologies are those words which mean the same thing: safe haven, future prospects, weather conditions etc. Sometimes, tautologies are used for rhetorical effect, but at other times removing one unnecessary word will improve conciseness.

Avoid unnecessary determiners, qualifiers and modifiers

There are some words which appear to modify a noun but which merely clutter up the sentence.

For example:

Managers need some [kind of] extra help if they are to avoid getting bogged down with paperwork.

It is [basically] in order to...

The [sort of] person I would like to meet is...

The software was implemented and tested on a cohort of level 2 students who had, [in general], studied French for 8 years.

[To a certain extent] women no longer lag behind men in terms of pay in certain areas.

Either omit these words or give specific details.

Avoid using nown formulations for verbs

There is an increasing tendency in the English language to use nown formations to replace a perfectly good verb. Take the following example:

The articles should de-mystique the subject by explaining complicated concepts and offering definitions where appropriate. The articles should demystify the subject by explaining complicated concepts and offering definitions where appropriate.

The example on the left uses a nown formation from 'mystique', but the word 'demystify' means just the same thing and is more common parlance.

Change clauses into phrases and phrases into single words

Sometimes, phrasal constructions can be reduced to adjectives, as in the following:

The employee with talent The talented employee
The economy with the best performance The best performing economy

Relative clauses can also sometimes be reworded as in the following examples:

The prisoner who had been recently released The recently-released prisoner
The article which is entitled '...' The article'...'
The IT system that met most of our requirements The most compatible IT system

Other clauses can be worded more simply as in the following example, in which two clauses are put together as one:

If citing a shortish extract, you can do this by just reproducing it within the article. A short extract can be reproduced within the article.

Try and avoid phrases like 'It was', and 'There is':

There is a tendency amongst managers of X company... Managers of X company tend to...
It was Kotler who said... Kotler said...

Some infinitive phrases (those that use verbs with 'to') can be turned into sentences with active verbs:

The responsibility of a leader is to motivate and inspire A leader should motivate and inspire
The product is considered to be sound The product is considered sound

Sometimes verbal phrases with gerunds (-ing words) can be turned into adjectives:

Because of the ground being rough because of the rough ground

Avoid repetition or excessive detail

When you read through a draft, check you are not repeating things unnecessarily or putting in too much detail, as in the following example:

'The purpose of this paper is to describe the experience of a team of academics in the Department of French, School of Modern Languages within the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Studies at the University Institute of X in the development of a Computer-assisted learning software program.'

Here, we do not need to know all the details of the department's position in the organization! The authors go on to provide great detail about the process of acquiring funds for the exercise, which again is unnecessary and detracts from the main focus of the article, which is about the development of CAL software.

'Immediate feedback is available, an incorrect answer is signalled to the user, and the user is asked to try again if the answer is an incorrect one.'

The author could well have stopped the sentence after 'try again'.

'With the increasing power of micro-computers in the HE sector Computer Assisted Learning (CAL) (Computer Aided Learning or CBL) is an area which is expanding greatly within Higher Education and it is important that higher education institutions recognise the full potential of this area in the teaching of students...'

In this sentence, the authors refer to the Higher Education sector three times, and use two different phrases for CAL, not to mention the wrong abbreviation given for the second term.

'During the phase the team and the software programmer met on four occasions to discuss strategy at the planned Phase 1 strategy meetings.' As the author includes this under the heading 'Phase 1', all the information after 'strategy' is redundant.