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Curing Wordiness

2.0 Quick Grammar Review 1.1 Attacking Wordiness at its Source

1.2 Holistic Cures for Wordiness

1.3 Concrete Antiwordiness Strategies

1.4 Words of Caution

1.5 Trimming Practice

3.0 Dissolving Writer's Block
4.0 Punctuation Guide
5.0 Troubleshooting Sentences
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Cut the f l a b from your writing in 3 drafts--or your money back!

'Excellence of any sort--excellent dancing, excellent quarterbacking, excellent woodworking--has no waste. You fix wordy writing by doing the same job using fewer words.'
This and all quotes in this document come from Jack Rawlins's excellent book, The Writer's Way. [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992, 200-206].

1.1 Attacking Wordiness at its Source

Source 1: The Need for Volume

Find more to say. Push your idea a few steps further. Redefine your tasks--perhaps by making your purpose more complex, or finding subpatterns in (or exceptions to) the thread you've chosen to follow.

Source 2: The Creative Process

Acknowledge that writing is an inefficient process, and take advantage of opportunities to revise. Readers will appreciate your efforts: " See the writing as readers see it. . . .Think of it like preparing for a backpacking trip: You don't take along everything that might prove useful; you leave behind everything but what you know you'll need"(201).

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1.2 Holistic Cures for Wordiness

Learn to hate the sound of excess writing--perhaps by writing a parody of a short, simple sentence. Example:

"Learn to love pith.
Your must learn to love pith in your writing.
If you want to be a good writer, you must accept the fact that you will have to learn to love pith.
In my experience, I have come to realize that anyone who wants to be a good writer must sooner or later accept the fact that [s/he] will have to learn to love pithiness of expression." (202).

Discover that a lot of bad writing is "in the flab itself" (202). If you trim your sentences down to the absolutely crucial elements, most likely you'll eliminate errors of grammar and idiom.

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1.3 Three Concrete Antiwordiness Strategies

  1. "Language consists of words that matter and 'glue' words that hold them together. Pithy writing has as little glue as possible" (203). Find the words that matter and link them as efficiently and precisely as possible, or find 'glue' words and cut them.

    Glue alarms:

    " of, is/are, there is/there are, which, that, as, as far as [x] is concerned, effect, sort of, kind(s) of, in terms of, regarding, concerning, aspect, experience, situation, proceed to, occur, create, cause, in the form of, on a(n) [x] basis, the reason for [x] is that [y], is where, is when, in order to, due to, as a result of" etc.(203).

    "Great gobs of glue tend to accumulate at the beginnings of sentences, as we struggle to get up a head of steam:

    It's important to realize that, Remember that, One should note that, The main point here is that....

    Most of these introductory gobs end with that, so always question any such construction.

  2. Second, ask,'What's new?' This is a variation on the glue rule that works on the sentence that follows a solid sentence. You ask, 'What's new in the second sentence?' and cut everything else:

    They say he heads their list of 'most wanted' players. This stems from the fact that he has a .376 career batting average.

    What's new in the second sentence? Only the batting average, so add it to the first sentence as simply as possible:

    They say he heads their list of 'most wanted' players, thanks to his .376 batting average." (203).

    Also watch for 'overlap' words or phrases in consecutive sentences, and try to combine those sentences into more complete thoughts (perhaps with a colon, dash, or pronoun, or with appositives, participial phrases, or compound verbs).

  3. Eliminate redundancy by abandoning standard "restate the main point" organizational crutches, and by watching for covert redundancy in places where one word already implies the meaning of another:

    "Adjectives:

    grave crisis, true facts, real truth, added plus, future plans, past experience, basic necessity, general consensus, valuable asset. . . ugly blemish, common similarities, natural primitive instinct.

    Compounds: words or phrases in pairs connected by 'and':

    The point of reading is to comprehend and understand content.

    Censorship is a very pertinent and important subject to all Americans." (205).

    Verbs:

    as a result, this causes. . . , choose a selection, protest against.

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1.4 Some Words of Caution

Don't think only on a word-by-word level, and don't cut only the words that "'don't say anything'"(206). Some paragraphs might work better as sentences, and you may lose meaning any time you trim anything. You'll need to make some tough decisions; base them on your purpose and audience.
And don't cut the life out of your writing. "Efficiency in writing," as Rawlins says, " is like efficiency in the workplace: It's a good thing, but it's not everything. When efficiency makes us robotic, life isn't worth living."(206).


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1.5 Time for Trimming Practice

Can you reword this memo more concisely (and eliminate the two punctuation errors)?

Duckpond South

April 1, 1993

Dear Residents:

We want to inform you of a change that will occur at Duckpond South.

We will be changing our name to Pinecrest Apartments.

Duckpond Three and Duckpond South are names that have been confusing to many people, for this reason we think that changing to Pinecrest, is the simple solution for all concerned.

We think that you will agree that this change will be helpful for all.

Our phone number and address will stay the same, so there won't be any inconvenience to you. Thank you.

Sincerely,

The Management


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