Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Continuing last week's discussion of wordiness, let's consider a few more examples of verbiage. Although some of these phrases can add a bit of flavor to one's writing, they often appear as overused expressions. Communicating an idea or feeling is at the heart of writing—strive to be direct and to avoid useless phrases with the aim of better communication. Here are a few more examples to reconsider when you find them in your work:
inasmuch as. Although this phrase is grammatically correct, it tends to stick out like a sore thumb... or a cliché. Both since and because are more manageable alternatives.
in connection with. Our Chicago pulls no punches when calling this example a "vague, fuzzy phrase." The manual provides of, related to, associated with, about, and for as possible variations to use.
in the affirmative. While this phrase has the connotation of being more formal, it is usually easier to simply state that the answer is yes. The CMS reminds us that the correct way to punctuate the proper phrase is he said yes—using no quotation marks or capitalization.
in the near future. Why waste words when you can use one? Try using soon or shortly.
question as to whether. This phrase seems to be particularly needless for William Strunk, Jr. In the Elements of Style, he lists this phrase as the primary offender of using unnecessary words. The word whether or the phrase question whether will usually do a better job of presenting the information concisely.
As we strive to best convey our messages, remember that we are not trying to strip the life out of every sentence. We don't want to reduce our writing to the most rudimentary sketches. Instead we should take away the needless words so that our words continuously convey ideas and feelings. As Strunk wrote: