Reducing Wordiness

First, imagine that you have just been assigned to write a paper on the topic, “what I did over summer vacation.” The paper is due in two weeks. What’s the next thing you want to know?

If you said “how long does it have to be?” you are probably not alone. The due date, the topic, and the required length are normally the three most important things to students when assigned a paper. In fact, you may have had an instructor who lowered grades on papers that did not meet the length requirement and/or required you to put the total number of words on the paper itself. Even the assignments in this course start with the due date and the length before describing the topic and the other requirements. (For what it’s worth, my length requirements are more guides than requirements; I set the length based upon 25 years of experience and what I believe will be necessary to cover the topic in the necessary depth. I strongly suggest that you follow the length suggestions, but I’m not going to waste my time counting your words. I know when it doesn’t reach the necessary depth.) Anyway, after years of writing to prescribed lengths, most students have become masters of saying as little as possible in as many words as possible, probably without even knowing it.

I suggest that wordiness and lack of precision is the single biggest problem with student writing when it comes to Language and Style and Grammar and Mechanics. That’s why the first presentation regarding editing is the concision presentation. Editing for concision is important for two reasons.

First, one of the traits of experienced writers is their ability to come up with several different ways to communicate the same idea in writing. The mark of developing and inexperienced writers is that they use the first thing they come up with to communicate an idea in writing. Experienced writers wrestle with words and phrases, twisting them around and experimenting with ways to “tighten up” their ideas. Inexperienced writers are often so relieved to just get the words down that they take the first thing they get. Of course, they might proofread it, but they begin with the first set of words they think of. If nothing else, I hope in this class you spend a bit more time taking each idea and considering two or three or four different ways of communicating it. Then, choose the one that you think is best. You will almost always choose the best one. Considering how to say something more precisely and concisely is the best first step in doing this.

Second, if nothing else, being more concise will reduce other problems with awkward structures, punctuation, etc.

I know what you’re probably saying to yourself. “Oh, c’mon. You said I need 1,000 words; my first draft is 1,000 words. If I edit it down to 700 words, you’re going to say it’s too short.” If you’re thinking that, let me ask you another question. If you came across a piece of writing that was 700 words long that communicated the exact same ideas than another piece of writing that was 1,000 words long, which one would you rather read? I’m no different, and let’s face it, I have a lot more papers to read than you. But I will suggest that, based upon my 25 years of experience, the 700-word draft probably lacks the necessary depth and development.

Edit the following sentences to be more concise without changing the sentence’s meaning. Try to reduce each sentence by at least 20% but shoot for 50%. The number in parentheses is the total number of words in the original.

  • The stadium has ample parking space available for fans’ automobiles. (10)
  • There is no easy shortcut to learning how to play the game of bridge. (14) (see #3 and #4 above)
  • In the appendix in the back of the book you will find a complete list of all references to the author’s earlier previous works. (24) (see #4 and #% above)
  • Let’s have a discussion on this particular issue sometime at a later date. (13)
  • It is necessary for all of the fire extinguishers in the entire complex to be inspected on a monthly basis. (20) (see #3 above)
  • There were a number of very important issues that were brought up and thoroughly discussed in detail during the meeting. (20) (see #3 above)
  • Fatigue can alter the mental and physical stability of an individual. Each element that has been discussed in relation to extensive physical activity ties directly into the notion that inevitable fatigue will occur. Fatigue at its most violent stage can leave organs, tissues, skeletal joints and the mind feeling exhausted. (51) (consider combining sentences/ideas)