Wordiness: A Lesson in Writing Concisely • “[Y]ou can think of your draft as a puzzle; to solve it, you have to find and eliminate the superfluities that obscure your meaning. The object is to delete as many words as possible without sacrificing substance or nuance.” -Claire Kehrwald Cook 1. Avoid “Be” Verbs • • • am are is • • • was were being • been “Be” verbs are considered actionless verbs and should be changed to active verbs when appropriate. The boring textbook was being read by the students. change to The students read the boring textbook . It is better to become a nurse instead of a teacher. change to Nursing pays better than teaching does. _________________________________________________________________ “Be” Verb warning. WARNING!!! Sometimes you should use “be” verbs. I am 21 years old. If the agent—the one performing the action—is unknown, you may use the passive voice. • The walls had been defaced by graffiti. 2. Active vs. Passive Verbs In sentences written in the active voice, the subject performs the action expressed by the verb. In academic writing (with the exception of scientific writing) active sentences are preferred over passive ones. In sentences written in the passive voice, the subject receives the action expressed by the verb. • • Active: Roseanne wrote the paper. Passive: The paper was written by Roseanne. Passive: The Old Man and the Sea was written by Hemingway. Active: Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea. Passive: It is believed by some critics that Psycho is Hitchcock’s greatest film. Active: Some critics believe that Psycho is Hitchcock’s greatest film. WARNING! Active Vs Passive At times, it may be appropriate to write in the passive voice. The passive voice is preferred in scientific papers. • Experiments have been conducted to test the safety of generic pharmaceuticals. English and Humanities papers, however, are written in the active voice. • Dr. Harker conducted experiments to test the safety of generic pharmaceuticals. 3. Condense Phrases into Single Words The employee with ambition got the promotion. The ambitious employee got the promotion. All these phrases can be condensed into one word. • • • • • • Rob decided to retake the class at a later date in time. change to Rob decided to retake the class later. Because," "Since," "Why" = the reason for for the reason that owing/due to the fact that in light of the fact that considering the fact that on the grounds that this is why Must," "Should" = it is crucial that it is necessary that there is a need/necessity for it is important that cannot be avoided 4. the reason for for the reason that due to the fact that in light of the fact that considering the fact that this is why “When" = on the occasion of in a situation in which under circumstances in which “about" = as regards in reference to with regard to concerning the matter of where ________ is concerned "Can" = is able to has the opportunity to has the capacity for has the ability to "May," "Might," "Could" = it is possible that there is a chance that it could happen that the possibility exists for Avoid Repetitive Wording end result past experience share in common small in size = = = = end past share small I thought in my head I thought to myself In my mind, I think In my opinion, I think = I thought = I think made a discovery made an attempt made an accusation made an appearance made a decision = = = = = discovered attempted accused appeared decided 5. Avoid overusing expletives at the beginning of sentences Expletives are phrases of the form it + be-verb or there + be-verb. Wordy: It is the governor who signs or vetoes bills. (9 words) Concise: The governor signs or vetoes bills. (6 words) Wordy: There are four rules that should be observed: ... (8 words) Concise: Four rules should be observed:... (5 words) Wordy: There was a big explosion, which shook the windows, and people ran into the street. Concise: A big explosion shook the windows, and people ran into the street. The Paramedic Method Use the Paramedic Method (originally developed by Richard Lanham in Revising Prose) to edit any kind of professional writing. Editing your professional writing using the Paramedic Method will make your prose easier to read. Sentences that are easy to read are more persuasive and more user-centered. Follow the seven steps below to improve the readability of your sentences. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Circle the prepositions (of, in, about, for, onto, into) Draw a box around the "is" verb forms Ask, "Where's the action?" Change the "action" into a simple verb Move the doer into the subject (Who's kicking whom) Eliminate any unnecessary slow wind-ups Eliminate any redundancies. Paramedic Method Example Use the Paramedic Method in the sentences below to practice. Use the Paramedic Method in the sentences below to practice making your sentences more concise. After you use the Paramedic Method on these sentences, check your results against the sentences at the bottom of this handout. 1. The point I wish to make is that the employees working at this company are in need of a much better manager of their money. 2. It is widely known that the engineers at Sandia Labs have become active participants in the Search and Rescue operations in most years. 3. After reviewing the results of your previous research, and in light of the relevant information found within the context of the study, there is ample evidence for making important, significant changes to our operating procedures. This handout adapted from a larger piece by Richard Johnson-Sheehan. Exercise : Eliminating Wordiness Exercise 1 Revise these sentences to state their meaning in fewer words. Avoid passive voice, needless repetition, and wordy phrases and clauses. The first sentence has been done as an example. 1. Many local farmers plan to attend next Friday's meeting. 2. Although Bradley Hall is regularly populated by students, close study of the building as a structure is seldom undertaken by them. 3. He dropped out of school on account of the fact that it was necessary for him to help support his family. 4. It is expected that the new schedule will be announced by the bus company within the next few days. 5. There are many ways in which a student who is interested in meeting foreign students may come to know one. 6. It is very unusual to find someone who has never told a deliberate lie on purpose. 7. Trouble is caused when people disobey rules that have been established for the safety of all. 8. A campus rally was attended by more than a thousand students. Five students were arrested by campus police for disorderly conduct, while several others are charged by campus administrators with organizing a public meeting without being issued a permit to do so. 9. The subjects that are considered most important by students are those that have been shown to be useful to them after graduation. 10. In the not too distant future, college freshmen must all become aware of the fact that there is a need for them to make contact with an academic adviser concerning the matter of a major. 11. In our company there are wide-open opportunities for professional growth with a company that enjoys an enviable record for stability in the dynamic atmosphere of aerospace technology. 12. Some people believe in capital punishment, while other people are against it; there are many opinions on this subject. Need more practice? Go here! http://owl.english.purdue.edu/exercises/6/9/56 If you are having trouble with sentence structure, go here: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/exercises/5/ Example Concise Solutions: 1. Employees at this company need a better money manager. (Original word count: 26. New word count: 10). 2. In recent years, engineers at Sandia Labs have participated in the Search and Rescue operations. (Original word count: 24. New word count: 16). 3. After reviewing the results of your research, and within the context of the study, we find evidence supporting significant changes in our operating procedures. (Original word count: 36. New word count: 25). Answer: Eliminating Wordiness Exercise 1 Please note that these are a sampling of possible answers. These should be used as a guide to show what is possible, not as a source of the only "correct" answers for the exercise. Here are our suggestions: 1. Many local farmers plan to attend next Friday's meeting. 2. Bradley Hall is usually filled with students who do not study the building as a structure. 3. He dropped out of school to support his family. 4. The bus company will probably announce its schedule during the next few days. 5. Any student who wants to meet foreign students can do so in many ways. 6. Rarely will you find someone who has never told a deliberate lie. 7. Disobeying safety regulations causes trouble. 8. Five out of more than a thousand students at a campus rally were arrested for disorderly conduct, and several others were charged by campus administrators with organizing a public meeting without a permit. 9. Students think that the most important subjects are those that will be useful after graduation. 10. Soon college freshmen must realize that they need to contact their advisors about their choices of majors. 11. Our company provides opportunities for professional growth and stability in the dynamic field of aerospace technology. 12. There are people who are for and people who are against capital punishment.