A Military Writer's Handbook

Eliminating Wordiness

Good, clean writing results from having something to say about a subject and thoughtfully considering every sentence, every word. Look for stock phrases and unnecessary words in your sentences and see if you can eliminate or shorten them. In addition, avoid those sentence openers and passive sentence structures that invariably result in more words than you need to make your point. Consider the following twelve guidelines, which will help you cut the clutter from your sentences.

1. Avoid using a phrase when a word will do.
  has the ability to
  in this day and age
  is aware of the fact that
  due to the fact that
  the majority of
  on a daily basis
  each and every one
2. Eliminate redundant words.
  the reason [why]
  the [final] conclusion
  [utmost] perfection   enter [into]
  [the month of] August   [totally] oblivious
  [the colour] green   [past] experience
  mix [together]   correct [amount of] change
  [viable] alternative   [future] prospects
3. Avoid needless repetition.


In trauma victims, breathing is restored by artificial respiration. Techniques of artificial respiration include mouth-to-mouth respiration and mouth-to-nose respiration.

In trauma victims, breathing is restored by artificial respiration, either by mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-nose.


4. Drop most "There is" and "There are" sentence openers.

  Dropping these openers places key words at the end of the sentence where they are best emphasized.

There are serious consequences in failing to yield right of way.

Failing to yield right of way can have serious consequences.

5. Avoid some "It" sentence openers.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce our speaker.

I am pleased to introduce our speaker.

6. Delete needless "to be" constructions.
  Forms of the verb "to be" (is, was, are, etc.) often add clutter without adding meaning.
  I find some of his stories [to be] amusing.
7. Avoid weak, wordy words.
  is in conflict with
  make an assumption
  come to a conclusion
  take action
  make a decision
  come to the realization
8. Eliminate needless prepositions.

Some members of the committee made these recommendations.
Some committee members made these recommendations.

A man by the name of Godot is waiting for you.
A man named Godot is waiting for you.

9. Use "that" and "which" sparingly.
  This [is a] writing problem [that] is easy to correct.

The book [, which is] about Hemingway [,] is fascinating.
10. Fight noun addiction.
  Nouns manufactured from verbs (nominalizations) make your sentences weak and wordy. Weak verbs and needless prepositions often accompany nominalizations.
  Give consideration to the possibility of changing jobs.

Consider changing jobs.
11. Make negatives positive.
  did not succeed
  does not have
  did not prevent
  not unless
only if
12. Clear out the clutter words.
  Here are some of the most common:
very, definitely, quite, extremely, rather, somewhat, really, actually, situation, aspect, factor. (Use such words when they actually advance your meaning).


This document was prepared by Dr. I. Streight for the Writing Centre at Queen's University and is here used with permission.