12 tips for eliminating unnecessary words

Don’t think twice about using differently, currently or the reason why in your writing? It’s time you should.

In workshops and in writing guides, the admonition “use fewer words” is one of the cardinal rules. Although I resist the excision of allegedly superfluous adverbs and adjectives, I heartily acknowledge that many other parts of speech are often unnecessary. Here are other ways to reduce word count:

1. “The standards define the process to the mobile phone using two different methods for invocation.”

Whenever you see the word different, consider whether it’s necessary. By default, it’s almost always not. For example, if two methods are described, they’re almost certainly by definition different: “The standards define the process to the mobile phone using two methods for invocation.”

2. “Currently, many of the digitized publications have not been properly paginated.”

By the same token, currently is almost always superfluous; the context generally makes clear that the statement refers to the present. Again, when the default setting is obviously relevant, omit the word: “Many of the digitized publications have not been properly paginated.”

3. “Ethics, on the other hand, is future oriented, that is to say a present choice is based on a future desire, intent, or consequence.”

For one thing, the phrase beginning “that is to say” is an independent clause; it should be separated from the preceding phrase by a semicolon. Furthermore, that four-word phrase is extraneous: “Ethics, on the other hand, is future oriented; a present choice is based on a future desire, intent, or consequence.” (Alternatively, a colon is usually correct.)

4. “That’s how the newspaper described a new credit card two entrepreneurs, Jon Doe and Jane Roe, will soon make available.”

It’s obvious, not to mention trivial, how many entrepreneurs are involved. After the number is deleted, the appositive consists solely of the word entrepreneurs, so no punctuation preceding or following the names is required: “That’s how the newspaper described a new credit card entrepreneurs John Doe and Jane Roe will soon make available.”

5. “Low-income residents with leaking pipes can call out a plumber to fix leaks for free.”

You are free to employ the idiomatic phrase “for free” in conversation and informal writing, but in your professional prose, omit the unnecessary for: “Low-income residents with leaking pipes can call out a plumber to fix leaks free.”

6. “This is the reason why the imposition of restrictions on fertility treatments requires extra caution.”

The reason” and why are interchangeable terms, so they are redundant to each other: “This is why the imposition of restrictions on fertility treatments requires extra caution.”

7. “Even if the state has the power to narrow down the population that is entitled to such treatment, it must exercise restraint.”

The phrase “that is”—and its variant “that are” as well as “who is” and “who are”—is often superfluous: “Even if the state has the power to narrow down the population entitled to such treatment, it must exercise restraint.”

8. “This step gives both the patient and the physician the freedom to decide whether or not to enter into an agreement for medical treatment.”

Whether implies a choice, so “or not” is extraneous: “This step gives both the patient and the physician the freedom to decide whether to enter into an agreement for medical treatment.”

9. “By signing the consent form, they manifested their intention to have a child and agreed to each and every stage of the treatment.”

Each and every,” and pals like “first and foremost,” are infections of bloviation from speechifying and have no place in written discourse (and won’t be missed if omitted from oration): “By signing the consent form, they manifested their intention to have a child and agreed to each stage of the treatment.”

10. “It is for this reason that medical treatment should not be administered to a patient without consent.”

It is a weak way to start a sentence, and often a sign that the sentence can be tightened up somewhat: “For this reason, medical treatment should not be administered to a patient without consent.”

11. “The reason is that in some countries, genetic parenthood is the fundamental prerequisite for the application of family law.”

The words that follow “The reason is that” comprise the explanation, so the phrase superfluous: “In some countries, genetic parenthood is the fundamental prerequisite for the application of family law.”

12. “His past history indicates that you should not count on him to adhere to his future plans.”

This sentence opens and closes with redundant phrases; history is always in the past, and plans are always in the future: “His history indicates that you should not count on him to adhere to his plans.”

The original article ran on DailyWritingTips.com.

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