Can You Find Your Way Out of Wordiness? Five Top Tips
Wordiness—style problems that lead to overstuffing your writing—can make readers turn from digesting to skimming, negating all your hard work. Business Writing That Counts! focuses on wordiness from several angles in our workshops (live online or in-person), courses, one-on-one coaching, and consulting. Here are a few:
1. Reliance on filler words. Sentence transitions can prove tough, even though they can help writing flow. But when you are too hung up on them, you tend to add lots of filler words. Top on the list for business and technical writers is "in order to," when simply "to" means the same and usually does the trick. "Most importantly," or "it is important to note" rank up there with common filler phrases. Even single-word qualifiers like "basically," "actually" and "really" add filler. If you are short on word count, add information a reader can use, not filler words to 'up' your count.
2. Trying too hard to sound smart. Academic writing tends to pack more filler phrases than more casual writing, and to rely less on engaging readers to keep their attention. Regardless, packing any writing with unnecessary phrases can backfire, turning readers off. "In the event that" is more than needed to represent "if." The meaning of "while" is clear so there is no need for "in the process of." Replace "in reference to" with "about." Keep all writing simple. 3. Unfamiliarity with your topic. Some writers might resort to adding those extra phrases to try to sound smarter because they are not familiar with their topic. When you are uncertain about your subject, have not developed your case or argument, or lack evidence to support your argument, wordiness can crop up. As you struggle to say what you mean or have a vague idea, you might resort to filler words and phrases. Save yourself time by conducting some research up front; that is so easy with the Internet! And though you might not always need an outline or idea map, jotting down key points will help you sail through the unfamiliar topic with salient points, not filler phrases. 4. Clichés and corporate speak. "Bit off more than they could chew" means failed or faltered. Skip the clichés and gobbledygook and get to an action verb that clearly describes what happened. "Too many balls in the air" simply means "is too busy," "received too many assignments," or "needs help." Other phrases like "take offline" and "bandwidth" have arisen with technology. But before we had computers and the Internet, "quit" or "end" and "time" worked well. So, "trim the fat" (or simply be concise) for efficient and effective writing. 5. Failure to revise. You've finished the first draft and turned to other tasks or taken a break for a mini-celebration. The break is good, but the job is incomplete. Be sure to return to your writing project at least one more time. By your second re-read, you should spot all those extraneous words and phrases, along with redundant sentences or points. If you found the topic especially difficult, or didn't fully understand the subject, this step is one of the most essential you can perform. Take time to clean up grammar, typos, plus wordiness! Read your writing aloud. Stuffing words to reach a word-count page limit usually is obvious to educators, managers, and the poor readers who must wade through the fillers to reach the "main course." Get help making your business writing more concise. Our licensing program, can train you or your colleague to provide in-house business writing help when and where you need it. Give us a call at 425.485.3221.