A Word, Please: 12 dead-weight expressions you can chop from your writing
Words are powerful. Used effectively, they can change the world, sell more widgets or gently break the bad news to Dear John. But it’s a paradox of writing that too many words can dampen the power of your words. Less is usually more. That’s why editors chop dead-weight expressions out of writers’ work. And that’s also why, if you’re aiming to communicate effectively, you should try to do the same.
Here are 12 dead-weight expressions to cut from your writing.
In addition to. “Additionally” is usually unnecessary. But “in addition to” is worse. Why? Because the “to” forces you to restate something you just stated. “The theater is showing two action films. In addition to those two action films, they’re showing a comedy.”
It is true that. If the stuff that follows “it is true that” weren’t true, you wouldn’t say it. So just say it. Instead of “It is true that you can save money by clipping coupons,” just say, “You can save money by clipping coupons.”
It is important to note that. As an editor, this phrase annoys me to no end. But as a writer, I’m a habitual offender. This flabby phrase just flows out of me. Don’t waste words pleading with your reader to believe what you’re saying is important. Instead, say clearly important things. “Also worth noting” is equally problematic.
Truly. If you want your reader to feel like you’re trying to sell them something, by all means say, “This hike is truly an unforgettable experience.” But if you want to be taken seriously, just say “This hike is an unforgettable experience.” Ditto that for “actually,” “totally” and “certainly.”
In the process of. Sometimes, it’s important to emphasize that you’re in the middle of some process — say, remodeling. But usually, “in the process of” is just bloat. “We’re reviewing our policies” is just as meaningful as “We’re in the process of reviewing our policies.”
When a writer doesn’t know the sex of a single person, AP and others say they can use ‘they’ as a pronoun.
Advance planning. When your brain is on autopilot, it’s easy to let redundant expressions like “advance planning” slip in. So when you’re proofreading, keep an eye out for unnecessary words. Planning, by definition, always happens in advance.
Past history. Same problem. History is necessarily in the past. So “past” adds wordiness without adding substance.
Exact same. Another brain-on-autopilot expression. “Same” means “same.” Exactness is implied.
Due to the fact that. This wordy expression can make for extra-clunky sentences because it sets up a long introductory phrase. “Due to the fact that city ordinances prohibit overnight street parking, you should park in the garage.” That sentence has 11 words before the main clause. Look for alternatives. “Overnight parking is prohibited. Park in the garage.” When in doubt, you can always replace “due to the fact that” with the sleeker “because.”
In order to. Ninety-nine times out of 100, “in order to” can be chopped down to “to.” Swap “I studied all night in order to prepare for the test” for the punchier “I studied all night to prepare for the test.”
As a result. You often see this expression as an introductory phrase. “The robber was shot. As a result, he died from his wounds.” You also see it midsentence, as in “The robber was shot and died as a result of his wounds.” In both cases, you can do better. When it’s an introductory phrase, just chop it out. When it’s midsentence, look for shorter alternatives like “from.”
Manner adverbs that don’t convey new information. Joe quickly ran out the door. Barb angrily yelled at Sue. Clem quietly tiptoed through the house. Running is already quick. Yelling is angry. Tiptoeing is quiet. For any adverb that describes an action, ask yourself: Does the adverb contain new information? Sometimes, the answer will be yes. “Tom quickly closed his laptop” raises all kinds of fascinating questions about what Tom was doing and why he hurried to conceal it. But if the adverb’s meaning is already clear from the verb, as in “quickly ran,” cut it out.
June Casagrande is the author of “The Joy of Syntax: A Simple Guide to All the Grammar You Know You Should Know.” She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.
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