Monday, March 22, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: Wordiness (Part I)

In which our Editorial Assistant begins to address the fact that many writers should examine their proclivity for using many words when fewer words would better serve their purposes.

"Be Clear" and "Omit Needless Words"

William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White offer this resolute advice to readers of Elements of Style. Although contemporary linguists have taken issue with a few grammar rules in this ubiquitous book, Elements continues to offer positive criticism for writers of all stages of development. Statements like “Be Clear” and “Omit Needless Words” may seem vague and needless, but there is sound advice in trying to avoid wordiness.

Here are a few examples to examine when found in your writing:

as far as. This phrase is often used where as for would work better. Also consider concerning and regarding as concise alternatives.

as of yet. This clumsy phrase can easily be shortened. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends yet, still, and so far as possible variants.

as per. Although the phrase may sound fitting in business correspondence, it should not stray from that domain. To sound less like a character from the Dilbert comic strip, consider revising the sentence to use as or according to.

at the present time. This dry phrase is best avoided for simpler (and clearer) choices. Writers should choose now or one of its synonyms: anymore, currently, nowadays, presently, right now, or today.

by means of. Writers can often shorten this phrase to by. The CMS suggests with as another logical substitute.

due to the fact that. Our big orange style guide provides the succinct because as a replacement. Strunk took greater issue with the phrase, noting in his original version of Elements of Style: “the expression the fact that should be revised out of every sentence in which it occurs.” Thankfully (and characteristically), he provides a list of more concise expressions.

These are only a few examples of verbose phrases, but they serve as gentle warnings. Careful writers will keep keep these in mind when considering the instruction of Strunk and White: "Be Clear." Tune in next week for more signposts toward clarity, more troubling examples of wordiness.

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