Back in high school, I heard a writing teacher once say that every written sentence needed to be reduced to its simplest state. In other words, don’t be wordy.
That’s good advice up to a point, though I do think it can be taken too far. Sometimes the extra vocabulary choices we use might not add logical meaning so much as emotional meaning. Or perhaps they make the copy flow smoother.
Essentially, they make your writing more engaging. And engaging your readers is a huge deal.
That’s why next week’s Professional Writing Tip is going to be entitled something along the lines of “Why Use One Word When Two Work So Well?” Because sometimes wordy works.
Then again, sometimes it doesn’t. Here are four classic examples of when you might want to edit out some content:
Passive Voice – This is when you use “to be” verbs to say something like, “There is a lot of talk about the lizard man making an appearance for the solar eclipse” or “We were told by the aliens to stay away.”
There are more succinct ways of stating those sentences by cutting out the passive voice. “People keep saying the lizard man might make an appearance for the solar eclipse” cuts out three pesky words in a long-enough sentence, while “The aliens told us to stay away” reduces a nine-word sentence to seven.
Very – Why should something be “very interesting” when it can be “fascinating”? Or why describe a woman as “very pretty” when she can be “beautiful” or “lovely” or “gorgeous”?
“Very” can be useful here and there. But for the most part, it’s pretty eliminate-able.
Adjectives/Adverbs – In general, adjectives and adverbs are too easily overdone. Was it a stunning piece of art? Great. I can accept that. “Stunning” is a strong word choice. But too many of us writers are prone to over-emphasizing our messages. So it can’t just be “stunning” for us. Oh no. It has to be “amazingly stunning” or “stupendously stunning” or “over-the-top stunning.”
Well, guess what. The word “stunning” already implies amazing, stupendous and over the top. You don’t need a qualifier there unless you’re trying to kiss up to the gallery owner.
Basically, be careful about how many additional descriptions you give a noun or verb. If you go overboard, it won’t emphasize your copy. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Choppy Sentences. There are definite times when combining two choppy sentences – which oftentimes eliminates a word or two in the process – makes your article or blog post or advertisement easier to read.
Take the following: “The path was short. It was also overgrown.” As a professional writer, you could change it to, “The path was short and overgrown” or “The short path was overgrown,” both of which make the information more interesting to read.
There are plenty of other ways to get rid of unnecessary verbs, nouns, pronouns and other parts of speech in order to clean up your written copy and capture your readers’ attention.
Just don’t get carried away. Because sometimes the passive voice can actually enhance your writing. Adjectives and adverbs can enliven it. And choppy sentences can drive a point home like a hammer hitting nails.
When used the right way...