‘Your text is too wordy!’
That is a line you’ve likely heard. If you haven’t yet, well, probably you don’t expose your work to criticism that much, you are just starting out, or you are one of the rare ones, who are great right from the word go.
Nevertheless, it is a damning thing for a reader, a client or even a friend to say about your writing. And wordiness and redundancy are inefficiencies you need to deal with if you are to become highly rated and remunerated.
Indeed, using more words than necessary and repeating ideas make your text convoluted and hard to follow. Your readers end up not seeing the path you are trying to make them walk.
It can also result in a condescending voice, especially when you use more words to describe or explain obvious points.
Lastly, it can turn readers into passive participants. By over-explaining and over-describing, you leave no gaps to spark imagination.
But awful as it sounds, writing fluffy pieces is where all writers start. The art of being economical with words only comes with a lot of practice. Indeed, it is only after you’ve written for a while that you begin to appreciate that every word, sentence or paragraph must help your story move along.
If it doesn’t, then it has no business being there. And you should cut it out (It doesn’t matter how cute or smart it sounds).
For example in my first draft of this article I had this paragraph;
‘For those who work on the content mills, especially writing for SEO, wordiness seems to be the standard. But if you are writing text that is meant to engage, delight and inspire readers, wordiness is a serious crime.’
While it sounds valuable, I thought it will stand in your way (But somehow, it founds its way back).
You shouldn’t worry about wordiness and redundancy when you are writing the first draft, though. Just like worrying about grammar and sentence structure, that will only derail your thought flow onto the word processor. The work of cutting out the excess should happen at the editing stage.
And at that stage, ensure your text:
Uses adjectives and adverbs minimally
Adjectives and adverbs do a great job at modifying nouns and verbs, respectively. However, we often, especially when writing, overuse them to the extent they cease helping and become obstacles.
In this article, I had the adjective two (yes, numbers can be adjectives) in the following sentence;
‘And wordiness and redundancy in your texts are two inefficiencies you need to deal with if you are to become highly rated and remunerated.’
I cut out the adjective, and the sentence still makes sense. As a matter of fact, in this case, that creates a gap that engages the imagination of the reader. The reader can add one (wordiness) plus one (redundancy) to get two.
In an article, the New Yorker published on 18th September 2016 titled Birtherism, Bombs, and Donald Trump’s Weekend, I found an excellent use of an adverb in a text. It is in this sentence;
‘He attacked Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate, who, earlier in the show, had accurately described Trump’s comment as “an incitement to violence or an encouragement of violence, or at least being cavalier and reckless about violence.’
Find time to read the article and you will note that in its entirety, it is that single adverb (accurately) that exposes the attitude of the writer towards Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate in the US 2016 elections.
Doesn’t have repeated ideas
Sometimes we say the same thing twice or more, and we think they are different because we used different wording.
While writing this post I had a couple in my first draft. This is what I had for my second paragraph;
‘That is a line you’ve likely heard if you’ve been writing long enough. If you haven’t, yet, well, probably you don’t expose your work that much to criticism, you are just starting out, or you are one of the rare kinds of writers, who are great from the word go.’
The bold texts mean the same thing even though the wording is different. I had to choose one.
Here is another;
‘It can also mean that your voice is condescending to the reader, especially when you describe or explain obvious things they should already know from the context.’
Sometimes it isn’t easy to pick repetitions from your text. A second set of eyes can help with that. But if you don’t have an editor, try reading the text aloud, and you will catch a couple that way.
Has gaps to engage readers’ imagination
As I mentioned earlier, over-explaining and over-describing can make a reader a passive participant, which can lead to losing interest.
In her post, How to Write So Vividly that Readers Fall in Love with Your Ideas, published on Copyblogger, Henneke Duistermaat, a business writing coach and copywriter, does this very well in the next two paragraphs;
‘Helen checks her Twitter stream and answers a few emails. She doesn’t feel like writing. Not yet. She googles the word “leadership.”
756 million articles. Ouch. But still … Helen knows she can help, encourage, and inspire her readers.’
Note how the writer has left out a lot for us to imagine.
Fewer words replace long phrases
In many cases, we use so many words to say what we could with fewer, or even a single word.
In my first draft of this post, I had this paragraph;
‘If a word, sentence or paragraph doesn’t add to the goal of a text, it has no business being there. Cut it out (It doesn’t matter how cute or smart it sounds).’
It became this;
‘If it doesn’t, then it has no business being there. And you should cut it out (It doesn’t matter how cute or smart it sounds).’
I hope this post puts you in the mood to be economical with the words as you write.If you’ve got more ideas on how to cut wordiness and redundancy, feel free to share below.
Image is courtesy of Flickr