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10.14: Wordiness

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  • How can writing be too wordy? It’s made of words, right? However, good writing means using the right words and sometimes the fewest words. Too many words, or too many vague or confusing words or phrases can actually cloud your ideas, making them hard to understand or less effective. Sometimes less is more.

    Here is an example:

    In this day and age of easy technology and hand-held devices and cell phones, it’s easy to communicate with pretty much anyone, almost anywhere, literally any time of the day. The question that this brings up is whether or not communicating all the time is good or bad. Because of the fact that we all need cell phones, we now rely on them too much.

    This passage uses 65 words to say what? Does it really need all those words? Are all the words actually doing anything or are they just taking up space?

    Let’s look at the passage more closely, commenting on the words and language.

    In this day and age (cliché and really long phrase) of easy not really specific technology and hand-held devices and aren’t hand-held devices also cell phones? Too much repetition cell phones, it’s passive voice-not really effective. Who is communicating? What does easy mean? easy to communicate with pretty much vague description anyone, almost what are the exceptions? anywhere, literally do we need all these descriptors? any time of the day. The question that this brings up wordy phrase is whether or not communicating all the time is more passive verbs good or bad. Because of the fact that don’t need this we all need do we? Support this? cell phones, we now rely on them too much vague—how much is too much?

    Now, we could rewrite this, being much clearer and more concise.


    Hand-held devices make communication effective; people can communicate instantaneously with others across the globe, both with audio and video. However, instant communication may come with consequences like dependence on cell phones.

    Now, we have 31 words to say what 65 did before—and it’s more concise and clear. To develop the paragraphs more, we can add examples, details, and maybe even research.

    This following section was adapted from Business English for Success:

    Identifying wordiness: Choosing specific, appropriate words

    Most college essays should be written in formal English suitable for an academic situation. Follow these principles to be sure that your word choice is appropriate.

    • Avoid slang. Find alternatives to bummer, kewl, and rad.
    • Avoid language that is overly casual. Write about “men and women” rather than “girls and guys” unless you are trying to create a specific effect. A formal tone calls for formal language.
    • Avoid contractions. Use do not in place of don’t, I am in place of I’m, have not in place of haven’t, and so on. Contractions are considered casual speech.
    • Avoid clichés. Overused expressions such as green with envy, face the music, better late than never, and similar expressions are empty of meaning and may not appeal to your audience.
    • Be careful when you use words that sound alike but have different meanings. Some examples are allusion/illusion, complement/compliment, council/counsel, concurrent/consecutive, founder/flounder, and historic/historical. When in doubt, check a dictionary.
    • Choose words with the connotations you want. Choosing a word for its connotations is as important in formal essay writing as it is in all kinds of writing. Compare the positive connotations of the word proud and the negative connotations of arrogant and conceited.
    • Use specific words rather than overly general words. Find synonyms for thing, people, nice, good, bad, interesting, and other vague words. Or use specific details to make your exact meaning clear.

    Let’s stop this overview of proofreading here—those are a lot of rules! We covered the main things to consider for proofreading, or copy editing. Remember that having a clean, proofread copy of your final draft is important. Your audience expects it.

    You gain credibility (ethos points) by following the standard rules of English in most contexts.

    Remember also that you can proofread while you write, or while you revise, but you should not let this get in the way of getting good ideas down—don’t “edit as you go” if this freezes you up, because all of the perfect proofreading in the world is not going to help a paper with bad ideas and incoherent content.

    Portions of this chapter were adapted from the book Business English for Success:

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