Extra words don’t make better writers any more than extra fat makes better people. But as my students and clients can attest, the hardest thing about writing is the cutting.
6 places in your writing where the fat might be hiding:
1. Deadwood: In view of the fact that the class is filled, we sincerely regret to inform you that we simply cannot admit you to Microbiology 202. A phrase like “in view of the fact” instead of “because” is deadwood. It’s grammatically correct, but it’s dead–it adds no meaning. And adverbs are often deadwood (I almost just modified often with very and would have illustrated my point); Sincerely and simply, in this context anyway, simply have to go.
2. Redundancy: Repeated words and phrases in the same passage are often opportunities for combining sentences.
BEFORE: Piggy’s “specs” act as a symbol for logical, rational thought. Logical, rational thought was one thing the boys lacked, but as much as they needed it, they still treated Piggy’s specs carelessly.
AFTER: Though they lacked logical, rational thought, the boys treated its symbol, Piggy’s “specs”, carelessly.
3. Superfluity in diction. Don’t use a big word when a small one does the same job. Don’t say “superfluity in diction” when “unnecessary words” will work.
4. Assumed ignorance in your audience. This is one ditch along the know-your-audience road. The other would be leaving them in the dark with too few words.
Re-telling the plot in a literary analysis piece or explaning common knowledge as though it weren’t common are two examples. In business copy, telling prospective clients or customers what their business or industry’s value propositions are might be unecessary. It might be patronizing too. Tell them what YOUR value propositions are, and if they match those of your target, great. Just know your audience.
5. Stock language. Certain writing formats have their own pitfalls. The literary analysis essay, for example, presents this one: “Another example of how Ralph follows Jack into savagery is when…” In this case, the entire essay is on Ralph following Jack into savagery (do you know the book?), so there’s no reason to repeat the thesis at every new example.
6. The passive voice, which I discuss here. It’s a post on writing website copy, but you’ll get the idea.