by James Corgin (used with permission)
Post-modern society has witnessed a tendency to simplify everything it can. We are lost in a sea of unnecessary information. Research has found that we use only 37% of the information taught at school. Of course, there’s also the continuous flow of advertisement and social media updates that inundate us.
That is why information overload is the problem of the 21st century. Some years from now, scientists will probably find a way to decrease its effect, but for now we have only one option – to communicate more concisely. The definition of concise writing is simple: use as few words as possible to convey your message. Below you will find some advice on how to slim down your word count.
Fillers You Should Drop for Concise Writing
If you intend to make your writing concise, avoid these words. We have grouped them into four categories for your convenience. In most cases, these English fillers are superfluous. Sometimes, however, fillers create a necessary rhythm or make the text sound “natural,” so you’ll need to review them on a case-by-case basis.
Redundant words repeat the meaning of other words in the sentence. If it is possible to say the same thing in fewer words, always do so.
- Absolutely + necessary or essential:
Example: Love was absolutely essential to her happiness.
Revision: Love was essential for her happiness.
Example: The virus will be entirely eliminated.
Revision: The virus will be eliminated.
Example: He was completely sure the girl would say “yes.”
Revision: He was sure the girl would say “yes.”
Example: He could possibly become the next president.
Revision: He could become the next president.
- Brief + moment:
Example: For a brief moment, he remained speechless.
Revision: For a moment, he remained speechless.
- Ask + the question:
Example: I asked her a question about our plans.
Revision: I asked her about our plans.
- Actual + facts:
Example: The policeman submitted the actual facts about the case.
Revision: The policeman submitted the facts about the case.
Example: Accordingly, ask before making changes next time.
Revision: Ask before making changes next time.
- ATM machine: (The abbreviation “ATM” stands for “automated teller machine.”)
Example: The ATM machine is around the corner.
Revision: The ATM is around the corner.
- Enter in:
Example: He entered in his childhood room.
Revision: He entered his childhood room.
- So or very:
Example: I was so glad to see him.
Revision: I was glad to see him.
- Still remains:
Example: The author still remains the most prominent figure of the 19th century.
Revision: The author remains the most prominent figure of the 19th century.
Nominalization is when you use a noun instead of a verb or adjective. This practice usually slows the reader down. Since action words – like verbs – are more dynamic, you should try to avoid unnecessary nominalizations. Here are some examples:
Example: Her definition of self-care was getting enough sleep and eating well.
Revision: She defined self-care as getting enough sleep and eating well.
Example: The accuracy of our study was insufficient.
Revision: Our study was inaccurate.
Example: Provide a description of the design you prefer.
Revision: Please describe the design you prefer.
- Had a discussion concerning:
Example: They had a discussion concerning the business perspectives.
Revision: They discussed the business perspectives.
- Had a conversation about:
Example: They had a conversation about their relationships.
Revision: They discussed their relationships.
- Have a need for:
Example: I have a need for a day off.
Revision: I need a day off.
- Increase in strength:
Example: Their love increased in strength.
Revision: Their love grew stronger.
- Is aware of:
Example: He was aware of her hatred.
Revision: He realized she hated him.
- Is in love with:
Example: They are in love with each other.
Revision: They love each other.
- Lack the ability to:
Example: I lack the ability to wake up early in the morning.
Revision: I cannot wake up early in the morning.
- Make a decision to:
Example: I couldn’t make a decision to end our communication.
Revision: I couldn’t decide to end our communication.
Example: His reaction offended me.
Revision: The way he reacted offended me.
Vague language is common in colloquial speech, but in writing, it looks unprofessional. Vague words lack solid definitions. Avoid the words below or replace them, following the instructions.
Example: About 100 visitors left reviews.
Revision: Approximately 100 visitors left reviews.
Example: It was almost time to leave.
Revision: They left a few minutes later.
Example: You need to get stronger.
Revision: You need to become stronger.
- Get out of:
Example: The building is on fire; get out of it.
Revision: You need to exit the building because it’s on fire.
Example: Any individual shall have a place of residence.
Revision: Any person shall have a place of residence.
Example: My initial thought was to leave.
Revision: At first, I thought to leave.
- You’re going to have to:
Example: You’re going to have to finish this at home.
Revision: You must finish this at home.
- Make available:
Example: Our service makes available multiple useful features.
Revision: Our service presents multiple useful features.
Example: We left the area.
Revision: We left the country.
Example: Planning is my least favorite aspect of traveling.
Revision: I like to travel, but I do not like to plan.
Example: The situation grew dangerous.
Revision: The uprising grew dangerous.
- Small, big, good, or bad:
Example: He was a good person.
Revision: He was a kind and caring person.
Empty phrases mean nothing in the literal sense. By the way, “in the literal sense” is also a meaningless phrase. These words distract the reader from your message and can sound colloquial. In many cases, you can do without them or replace them with a more meaningful construction.
- All things being equal:
Example: All things being equal, we will earn twice as much next year.
Revision: If all goes well, we will earn twice as much next year.
- Due to the fact that:
Example: Due to the fact that he is a doctor, he minds his health.
Revision: Since he is a doctor, he minds his health.
- For all intents and purposes:
Example: For all intents and purposes, the protagonist will die in the end.
Revision: In the end, the protagonist will die.
- For the most part:
Example: For the most part, I like Chinese food.
Revision: I like Chinese food.
- For the purpose of:
Example: I go in for sport for the purpose of keeping in shape.
Revision: I go in for sport to keep in shape.
- Go ahead:
Example: Go ahead and kill that bug.
Revision: Kill that bug.
- Harder than it has to be:
Example: The woman made their relationship harder than it had to be.
Revision: The woman made their relationship harder than necessary.
- Here’s the thing:
Example: I’ll tell you the story. Here’s the thing.
Revision: I’ll tell you the story. Once upon a time…
- I feel/believe that:
Example: I believe that I am capable of doing it.
Revision: I am capable of doing it.
- I might add:
Example: He is handsome, I might add.
Revision: He is handsome.
- Integrate with each other:
Example: The devices must integrate with each other to function correctly.
Revision: The devices must integrate to function correctly.
- In terms of:
Example: His new position was perfect in terms of salary.
Revision: The salary was perfect in his new position.
Thanks for James Corgin for this article that originated at https://ivypanda.com/blog/filler-words/
by Carolyn Howard-Johnson (used with permission)
First impressions are important. We all are aware of that as we brush our teeth and try to unknot the rat’s nests from the back of our hair each morning. In fact, first impressions are part of our marketing efforts, too. Whether we authors are trying to get an interview or a TV appearance or marketing our books using e-mail or social networks, editing is an essential part of that first-impression effort. Generally that first effort is a query letter or proposal. Thus editing equals great first impression. That makes it an integral part of a marketing campaign.
Five Editing Myths Waiting to Trip Up Your Campaign to Market Your Work
- If your English teacher told you something is OK, it is.
(Nope. Language rules and style guidelines have changed since you were a sophomore.)
- If a manuscript or query is grammar-perfect, you’ll make a great first impression.
(No! Lots of things that are grammatically correct will annoy publishers, agents, and other gatekeepers like feature editors.)
- Always use your Spell and Grammar Checker.
(Maybe. Some well-known editors suggest you don’t use it at all, but The Frugal Editor gives you dozens of ways to make it your partner instead of your enemy.)
- Your publisher will assign a top-flight editor, so you don’t need to worry about your manuscript.
(Maybe, but don’t count on it. Besides you can be a better partner for an editor—whether she is assigned to you by your editor or you hire one for yourself– if you know something about the process; you’ll know better when to nix her suggestions! In any case, I suggest hiring an editor of your own before you submit your manuscript and you’ll love my Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips (bit.ly/LastMinuteEditsII) for building the confidence you need to say no an editor no matter how professional she is.
- Typesetters and editors will take care of the hyphens, ellipses, and all the other grungy little punctuation marks that English teachers avoided teaching because they didn’t know how to use them either.
(Chances are, you’ll catch even great formatters and editors in an error or two if you know your stuff!)
In addition to these editing myths, here’s one last suggestion for nonfiction and fiction writers ’cause they’re so often neglected when it comes to marketing:
Avoid using italics for internal thought in the synopses sections of your marketing tools or in the sample chapters you must include. Italics are being used more and more these days, but using them often becomes a crutch that enables writers to avoid writing great transitions and point-of-view. The best agents and publishers will recognize it as such.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson, an award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction, a former publicist for a New York PR firm and was an instructor for the renowned UCLA Extension Writers’ Program for nearly a decade. She is an editor with years of publishing and editing experience including national magazines, newspapers, and her own poetry and fiction. Learn more about the author at http://HowToDoItFrugally.com .Her The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t (http://bit.ly/FrugalBookPromoIII) won USA Book News’ best professional book award and the Irwin Award. The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success (http://bit.ly/FrugalEditor) is top publishing book for USA Book News and Reader Views Literary Award. The Great First Impression Book Proposal: Everything You Need To Know To Sell Your Book in 30 Minutes or Less is a helpful little booklet available at http://bit.ly/BookProposalsII is now in its second edition from Modern History Press. And don’t miss another booklet Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips for Writers: The Ultimate Frugal Booklet for Avoiding Word Trippers and Crafting Gatekeeper-Perfect Copy, http://bit.ly/LastMinuteEditsII, also from Modern History Press.
by Barbara McNichol
Every year, Dictionary.com selects a word to describe the year coming to a close. About the incredible year of 2020, it said: “At Dictionary.com, the task of choosing a single word to sum up 2020—a year roiled by a public health crisis, an economic downturn, racial injustice, climate disaster, political division, and rampant disinformation—was a challenging and humbling one. But at the same time, our choice was overwhelmingly clear. One word kept running through the profound and manifold ways our lives have been upended—and our language so rapidly transformed—in this unprecedented year.”
The 2020 Word of the Year is PANDEMIC,
What is my personal Word of the Year? FORTUNATE
For all the misfortunes and tragedies people have faced in 2020, our family and friends can call ourselves FORTUNATE (cross fingers). We’ve been healthy, warm, and well-fed. We’ve been able to enjoy the outdoors a lot (except when fires ravaged nearby mountains in the super-hot, dry summer). We’ve done our best to stay connected, learning, exercising, and dancing online. We’ve been motivated to share our fortune through charities and support local businesses along the way. And we’ve counted our blessings that we could still serve our clients as usual. Truly fortunate on this one!
Given all that we CAN’T do—like visiting loved ones including attending Barbara’s mother’s memorial in September—we fill our cups with gratitude. We feel especially grateful for those fighting Covid, teaching kids, and caring for others. We HOPE a better 2021 awaits!
What is YOUR personal Word of the Year? ________ Please share you response below or email me.
Need some ideas? Check these.
WISHING YOU HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND A FORTUNATE NEW YEAR!
by Barbara McNichol
Do you know the difference between an “active” voice and a “passive” voice? Do you know when—and how—to use active verbs and passive verbs to get your message across?
Should you even care?
Yes. Because choosing the right voice changes your message. Don’t let a poor choice trip you up!
Here’s an explanation of the difference between the two voices and why you should pay attention.
How will I recognize active verbs?
These sentences feature active verbs:
- Joanna manages the human resources department.
- Spencer purchases all the office supplies.
- Erik generates $1 million in annual revenue.
Read the same sentences using passive verbs:
- The human resources department is being managed by Joanna.
- All the office supplies are being purchased by Spencer.
- $1 million in annual revenue is being generated by Erik.
The first group of sentences follows a Subject + Verb + Object structure. The second set gets the same message across but in more words. Yet, it lacks clarity and precision.
Why should I choose active instead of passive verbs?
Consider these three reasons:
- Active verbs declare who or what is—or should be—performing the action. You avoid confusion, guesswork, and dodging responsibility. (More on this point to follow.)
- Active verbs make your writing flow better. In business writing especially, your colleagues and clients demand you get to the point quickly.
- Active verbs eliminate the need for extra words, which requires striving to “whack wordiness” in your writing.
When should I use a passive voice?
If you can’t identify the “doer” of the action—the subject—the sentence has probably been constructed in the passive voice.
Even when the subject is clear, though, two clues help you identify “passive” sentences:
- The word “by”
- Variations of the verb “to be”
Use of a passive voice often leads to weasel-like language and can undermine your credibility in business communication. Your readers might think you’re avoiding taking responsibility for an aspect of your company’s service. This could set them on edge.
However, a passive voice can be useful when you require ambiguity. For example:
- Refunds will not be issued.
- Email inquiries will be answered in two business days.
- Votes will be tallied at the end of each session.
Read the same sentences with an active voice:
- The accounting department will not issue refunds.
- Jackson is responsible for answering email inquiries in two business days.
- The nomination committee will tally votes at the end of each session.
Using passive voice can be appropriate when you honestly don’t know the identity of the subject. For example:
- The bank was robbed this afternoon.
- Your product will be delivered tomorrow.
- A ten-thousand-dollar donation was made at the fundraiser.
As details become available, though, you can rewrite the sentences in active voice:
- A former employee, Robert Smith, robbed the bank this afternoon.
- Helen will deliver your product tomorrow.
- The Watson family made a ten-thousand-dollar donation at the fundraiser.
Using active verbs gets others to act.
Readers who understand who is doing the action, where, when, and why, without having to filter through extra words will likely join your cause. This applies to a discussion, a marketing campaign, or even a job application.
Consider these examples:
Passive: Public meetings are being held by the engineering team to discuss the merits of our building proposal.
- Active: The public is invited to meetings with the engineering team to discuss our building proposal.
- Passive: Feedback will be encouraged when our engineering team provides their update to the community.
- Active: The community is encouraged to provide feedback to the engineering team.
- Passive: Repairs are being done on the faulty security software by our IT department.
- Active: The IT department is repairing the faulty security software.
Now it’s your turn. (It’s okay to make up a subject here. Write your answer in the Comments section below.)
- Passive: This policy is being implemented in an effort to streamline our process.
Brevity is still bliss.
When writing fiction or nonfiction for recreational readers, using an interesting turn of phrase or literary device like alliteration makes reading a joy. But when readers have to have information quickly, don’t wax prophetic. Use the right tools to help you get to the point and improve your results.
If you’d like to learn more about ways to whack wordiness and tune up your written communication skills, contact me.
by Barbara McNichol
Do you know when to use the words as, since, and because?
As with most grammar rules, people writing for business purposes might see the differences as an exercise in hair-splitting. However, each word conveys a slightly different meaning.
If you agree that clarity in communication is essential, and that poor grammar can affect your reputation among peers and superiors, you understand how strong writing makes a good impression.
Master the proper use of these three conjunctions, and you’ll make yourself understood—and trusted.
What are conjunctions, and what is their role in a sentence?
As, because, and since are all conjunctions that introduce a subordinate clause. They provide the reason for the action in the main clause.
Sandy has to approve all vacation time because Roger left the human resources department.
Monday will be a paid holiday since Remembrance Day falls on a Tuesday this year.
All vacation inquiries will have to be done in person, as Sandy hasn’t updated the online calendar yet.
In all these examples, the subordinate clause provides the reason for the action in question. In addition, it is dependent on the main clause, meaning it has no meaning without it! The main clause, on the other hand, can stand on its own without the subordinate clause.
Using as vs since vs because: not splitting hairs.
If you want the information to resonate with your readers, choosing the correct conjunction is key.
- Where do I want the emphasis?
- Do I want the reader to focus on the reason or the result?
If you want to emphasize the result, use since or as.
- I hope Sandy attends the meeting [result], as I’m eager to hear her organizational plans for the human resources department [reason].
- Good human resources managers are hard to keep [result] since the job comes with so much pressure [reason].
In both of these examples, the result is at the forefront.
However, when you want your readers to pay close attention to the reason, use because.
- Because the human resources department is lacking consistent leadership employee turnover has been a challenge.
- Did you leave the engineering department because you were frustrated by the lack of resources?
- It’s important to seal all the hatches when you leave the maintenance room because the filters in the air purifiers have to be kept under pressure.
The causes – or reasons – are clear in these sentences, and draw the reader’s attention.
Using because eliminates the ambiguity in a sentence, as well. Consider using since vs because in this scenario:
- I understand the new vacation policy much better because I read the employee manual.
- I understand the new vacation policy much better since I read the employee manual.
In the first sentence, the reader understands that you gained a better understanding of the policy as a result of reading the manual.
What about in the second sentence? When did you gain a better understanding? Some time after reading the manual? Or due to information you found in the manual? Your reader may be able to infer the meaning, but it’s best not to make them guess.
There’s never a bad time for good writing.
Persuasive writing should be crisp and direct. When you’re in a business setting your readers are busy and their time is precious. Don’t waste any of it using ambiguous words or clunky grammar.
Your readers might not be grammar experts, but poor spelling and syntax are a distraction from your message. That comes down to paying attention when faced with word choices like as vs since vs because.
You can access a variety of resources. You can even sign up for my Word Trippers Tips and get grammar tips delivered to your inbox every week.
Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you communicate effectively:
by Barbara McNichol
If you resist the effort needed for improving your writing, here’s my suggestion: Make friends with good writing. A shift in attitude—from resisting to embracing—just might make all the difference. And here’s the payoff. When you better your writing skills, you advance your career and make a positive impression.
To meet that objective, here’s a fresh resource filled with must-have skills to jumpstart your resolve: an e-guide called—ta da—Making Friends with Good Writing.
This brand new e-guide comes with a special introductory offer. You’ll save $$ when you use the Coupon code FRIENDS at checkout. Check it out here.
“Barbara’s Making Friends with Good Writing is helpful and first class—just like she is! If you want to know when and why to use or create a style guide or enhance your writing, this e-guide provides answers with clear examples. ” – Peggy Henrikson, editor
Do you know the definition of a chiasmus? It’s a phrase that mirrors itself.
Making Friends with Good Writing offers a compilation of chiasmi that are fun. After reading this e-guide, a reader sent this chiasmus by Garrison Keillor: “When it comes to finding available men in Minnesota, the odds are good, but the goods are odd.” She had a fun response, too. “I don’t take his message seriously, though. Thankfully I found a good man!”
Can you create your own chiasmus? Please write it here!