Text only | Back

English Composition 1

Revising Sentences for Conciseness

Effective writing is concise, with no unnecessary words. The terms "wordy" and "wordiness" refer to writing that includes unnecessary words. Note that a sentence is not "wordy" just because it is long. A sentence can be long and concise. Nor is a paragraph or an essay necessarily wordy just because it is long. "Wordiness" refers to the use of unnecessary words to express ideas that can be expressed with fewer words. This page explains some of the ways that you can avoid wordiness in your writing. Notice how, in the examples below, no meaning is lost from the original sentences in the sentences revised for conciseness.

1. Eliminate Common Wordy Expressions

Some wordy expressions are so common that we can make a list of them, and one such list appears on the "Words, Words, Words" Web page. Eliminating these common expressions from your essays can make your writing more concise.


2. Combine Sentences to Avoid Wordiness

You may be able to eliminate many unnecessary words simply by combining some sentences in an essay, especially if a sentences repeats information presented in the sentence before it.


3. Avoid Stating Information Already Implied

A sentence can be wordy because it includes information that is already implied in other parts of the sentence. We might also refer to this form of wordiness as "stating the obvious."


4. Avoid "There is" and "There are" Constructions

As the second example above suggests, sentences using "there is" and "there are" often can be written more concisely. Overuse of "There is" and "There are" is also a common stylistic weakness.


5. Eliminate Unnecessary Repetition of Words or Ideas

Some repetition of important words can help strengthen the cohesion of an essay, but unnecessary repetition of words can cause wordiness, especially repetition of words in a single sentence. Repetition of ideas in a sentence often is unintentional but can be caught and eliminated through revision.


6. Avoid Use of the Passive Voice

The passive voice sometimes is necessary, but it should be avoided if possible. Overuse of the passive voice can lead to wordy sentences. (For more information about the passive voice, see the "Words, Words, Words" Web page.)


7. Avoid Use of the First Person

Use of the first person should be avoided in formal essays because it gives an informal tone to writing. Use of the first person also can cause wordiness. (For more information about use of the first person, see the Formal Writing Voice page.)


8. Avoid "To Be" Constructions

We would not have much left if we removed the "to be" from Shakespeare's "To be, or not to be," but these two words often can be deleted from a sentence with no loss of meaning.


9. Avoid Progressive Verb Tenses

Progressive verb tenses follow the pattern of am-is-are-was-were-will be verb-ing, as in "Jane is sitting by the window" and "the students will be reading poetry." Progressive tenses sometimes are necessary, but they often can be replaced by the simple past, present, of future tense, as in "Jane sits by the window" and "the students will read poetry."


"Get rid of words? But I need to reach at least the minimum required length for my essay!"

True, but you do not want your essay to be filled with words that are so unimportant that they can be deleted from your essay without any loss of meaning. And it is a fact that readers do not appreciate having to make their way through all of those unnecessary and unimportant words.

This page was last updated on Thursday, June 06, 2013. Copyright Randy Rambo, 2006.