Monday, December 01, 2008

Editing Tip of the Week: Choosing Your Words Carefully

Writers are always told, Show, don’t tell. Sometimes this results in clumsy writing, such as two adjectives where one would do, or redundant descriptions. Chicago Manual of Style cites the example of he ran quickly as one phrase that could use more editing. The other mantra often repeated to writers is that less is more.

One of the ways to put this into practice is to cut unnecessary words that don’t add substance to the writing. The Daily Writing Tips web site suggests five words to look for that can be eliminated, making your piece clearer and more concise. The five words are just, really, quite, that, and perhaps. There are cases in which any of these five words can be used, but more often than not, they weigh down the writing. Here is a sentence for example:

I just thought that perhaps it would be really quite helpful to discuss the plans before the meeting.

The extra words in the sentence decrease the impact of the suggestion. By cutting out the unnecessary words, the sentence is more decisive: I thought it would be helpful to discuss the plans before the meeting.

Many editors and teachers suggest reading out loud to catch grammatical mistakes. This helps to catch the use of unnecessary words, and will also prevent making the mistake of deleting one of them when it’s vital to a sentence. If you were to delete the word that from I want to see that movie, it wouldn’t be clear which movie you were talking about.

Choosing your words carefully is important. But eliminating some of those words carefully can also strengthen your work.

1 comment:

  1. I'd add actually to that list too.