Strengthen your writing by tackling wordiness and repetition with the following guidelines
By Veselina Yaneva
Words are essential tools for every writer. And yet, sometimes we are so focused on the information we want to deliver that we forget to write clearly and stylishly.
The following tips will help you make your piece more readable by eliminating wordiness and repetition.
Choose vigorous verbs over adverbs
In his essential book On Writing, Stephen King states that ‘the road to hell is paved with adverbs’.
With this belief in mind, juxtapose the following sentences:
- The leopard ran quickly through the tall grass.
- The leopard dashed through the tall grass.
In the first sentence, the weak verb ‘run’ relies on the adverb ‘quickly’ to modify it. As a result, wordiness and vagueness burden the sentence. In contrast, the strong, visual verb ‘dash’ does not require an adverb and gives the second sentence more precision and vitality.
Moreover, as the sentence below shows, some adverbs are redundant:
Jennifer quietly whispered the secret to her best friend.
Whispering is already a quiet activity. Consequently, declutter this sentence by removing the adverb ‘quietly’.
Similarly, introductory adverbs like ‘basically’ and ‘truly’, as well as intensifiers such as ‘very’ and ‘really’ that do not add meaning to the sentence, should be avoided.
As the writing teacher Peter Roy Clark advises in his popular guidebook 50 Writing Tools:
‘Beware of adverbs. They can dilute the meaning of the verb or repeat it.’
Cut superfluous adjectives to prevent an excess of words
Mark Twain once instructed, ‘When you catch an adjective, kill it.’ Considering this famous writer’s advice, analyse the following sentence:
The brave hero overpowered the scary, evil witch.
Bravery is an essential characteristic of a hero, and we usually perceive witches as being ‘scary’ and ‘evil’. Therefore, without these adjectives, the sentence will convey the same message without being long-winded:
The hero overpowered the witch.
As the example above shows, removing unnecessary adjectives reduces wordiness.
Replace repetitive words with synonyms
If you look over your text and notice that you have used a word too many times, you can replace some of the mentions with synonyms.
For instance, instead of repeating the adjective ‘beautiful’, you can add variety to your writing by substituting it with synonyms such as ‘magnificent’, ‘picturesque’, ‘stunning’, ‘spectacular’, ‘lovely’ and ‘scenic’.
However, remember to use not only a thesaurus but also a dictionary because synonyms often have slightly different meanings and connotations.
Use pronouns to avoid repetition
Instead of using the same noun more than once, you can put a pronoun in its place. For example, the following two sentences sound monotonous:
Charles Dickens wrote the novel David Copperfield. David Copperfield was Charles Dickens’s favourite ‘child’.
In contrast, their edited version below reduces the clumsiness by replacing the nouns ‘Charles Dickens’ and ‘David Copperfield’ with the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘it’ respectively.
Charles Dickens wrote the novel David Copperfield. It was his favourite ‘child’.
However, beware of misunderstandings like in the following sentences:
Harry Potter and A Wrinkle in Time are both children’s books, but they tell different stories. It is much more interesting.
It is not clear which book the pronoun ‘it’ substitutes. Make sure that the readers know for which nouns the pronouns stand.
Harry Potter and A Wrinkle in Time are both children’s books, but they tell different stories. The former is much more interesting.
Omit redundant words and phrases
Study the following sentence:
Many bright students applied for this scholarship, but few managed to win it.
The noun phrase ‘bright students’ is not repeated after ‘few’, but the readers can infer what the author refers to. When the meaning is clear, you can avoid repetition by leaving out the nouns after words such as ‘few’, ‘both’, ‘many’, and ‘some’.
Similarly, to pick up the pace, you can eliminate some prepositions.
The rephrasing of the first sentence below demonstrates this technique:
- The principal of the school enrolled a student from Japan.
- The school principal enrolled a Japanese student.
In the same way, ‘in order to’ can be shortened to ‘to’ and ‘considered to be’ to ‘considered’.
Implementing these strategies can help you improve the rhythm and style of your writing by reducing word reiteration and redundancy.
Read more on how to improve your word usage:
About the Author
Veselina Yaneva is a freelance journalist with a Master’s degree in English literature from Canterbury Christ Church University, UK. Her interest in writing inspired her to embark on the Freelance Journalism for Magazines and Webzines Course at the UK Writers College. After completing this course with distinction, she’s been relishing the opportunity to immerse herself in the inspiring world of website publication as a journalism intern at the Writers College Times. Veselina’s education, voracious appetite for travel and genuine love for reading, bring a range of perspectives and ideas to her work.
You can connect with Veselina via: www.linkedin.com/in/veselina-yaneva-83213b210