Aspiring Writers Struggle With Unnecessary Verbiage

Writing Tutorial

Aspiring Writers Struggle With Unnecessary Verbiage

Intro

It’s been my experience that the biggest problem facing most writers is using too many words to express a thought. Rewriting means recasting an offending sentence, not until nothing more can be added, but until nothing more can be deleted.

Sample Problem

Every good writing coach and book on the subject cautions: Write tight. But it takes a sharp eye, practice, and a love of precision with the written word to boil every sentence down to its cleanest components.

Take, for example, this sentence, which we read and hear all the time in news stories: “Police said an autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death.” To let that sentence stand is not only incorrect, it brands the writer as sloppy and lazy.

The very definition of autopsy is “to examine a body to determine the cause of death.” The sentence should read: “An autopsy will be conducted.” Everything else is pleonastic (the use of more words than are necessary for the expression of an idea). In this case, the writer should have autopsied his work.

Solution

Most pleonasms are fairly obvious: “fellow classmate,” “revert back,” “true facts,” “past history,” “advance planning,” “widow woman,” “widow of the late,” “eyewitness sightings,” “surrounded on all sides,” “free gift,” “hot water heater,” “is presently,” and countless others that have seeped into our language.

Some pleonasms are a bit harder to spot: “The contractor estimated the cost at approximately $20-$25 an hour.” If it’s an estimate, it must be an approximation, so eliminate “approximately.” And, “estimated” can be cut, since $20-$25″ is an estimate.

Here’s another that sometimes hides: “In addition to approving new history books, the school board also adopted changes in the student lunch program.” The phrase “in addition to” makes “also” pleonastic. The same is true of “besides.” It, too, would obviate the need for “also” in that sentence.

But, you might say, so what? What harm would it do to leave that language undisturbed? Well, the average reader might not notice anything wrong. But some readers definitely will notice those errors, and they will label you incompetent, lazy, or both. Amen.

Readers who understand fine writing (teachers and prospective employers, for example) will be dismissive of anything less. And they tend to be the people you least want to offend.

Writing tight is hard work. Care enough about the craft to search scrupulously for errors, unnecessary words, shortcomings, and redundancies. Take the time to make corrections, either during the writing process or when proofing your work. Recast an offending sentence as many times as it takes to make it “sing.”

Choose your language with precision, avoid redundancy, shun sesquipedalian words when garden varieties will do quite nicely, and be wary of over-the-top punctuation (a fine writer can go a lifetime and never use an exclamation point).

Words are like musical notes: they make sounds on paper (and computer screens). Learn to read your work ALOUD. Do you hear a symphony or a cacophony? Eliminate unnecessary verbiage and elevate your writer’s voice to one of distinction.



About The Author

Professional Writer And Editor
I am a professional writer and former newspaper editor. I also served as director of communications in the corporate arena. I am a recipient of state, national and international writing awards in the areas of education, business, religion, aviation, mental health, features and editorials. In ...
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