Words are the bedrock of communication, but too many of them is a bad thing. John Mayer’s song, “Say,” although not sung as an anthem against wordiness, has it right when he sings “say what you need to say.” When writing, be succinct, get to the point, say what you need to say, and move on. Consider the following tips to avoid the kind of wordiness that impedes accurate communication of your message to your reader.
1. Identify the message you wish to communicate. If you are not sure of what you are trying to say then, regardless of the content’s length, you ultimately will say nothing. You must also take into consideration your audience. If you have an international audience, avoid idiomatic expressions. If you have a technical message, use active voice.
2. Be alert when you write. Fatigue clouds your thoughts causing you to ramble on with no clear central theme. Clarity of thought allows you to say what you want to say and to know how you want to say it.
3. Avoid the use of phrasal verbs. A phrasal verb is a verb that, when combined with a preposition or an adverb, has a different meaning.
The rash showed up last night.
Replace the phrasal verb with a single verb equivalent and you have eliminated some wordiness. In this example, rewrite the sentence as:
The rash appeared last night.
4. Eliminate redundancy in your expressions. In English, we have a tendency to add unnecessary words in an attempt to emphasize a thought or an idea. Consider the following examples:
I am completely exhausted.
He filled his tank to the very top.
“Exhausted” means entirely used up, so “completely” is unnecessary. Likewise, “filled” means that all of a container’s space is occupied, so “to the very top” is conceptually repetitive.
5. Combine two sentences of similar content into one by omitting the repetitive part from the second sentence. For example:
The professor delighted in teaching his students. His students were studious, responsible, and focused.
By identifying the overlap in the word “students,” the two sentences can be combined into a concise, single sentence:
The professor delighted in teaching his studious, responsible, and focused students.
6. Use strong verbs that do not require additional words.
The tenant submitted a request to have the air conditioner repaired.
By replacing “submitted a request” with the strong verb “requested” the sentence is shorter, easier to read, and to the point.
The tenant requested to have the air conditioner repaired.
The ultimate purpose in writing anything is effective communication of a message to the reader. Wordiness compromises this objective by either taking too much of the reader’s time, or by leaving the reader confused. Overcome the ills of verbosity with these tips and, as John Mayer advocates, you say what you need to say.