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07 November 2011

Writing: (Wordiness) "Am I Using so Many Unnecessary Words?"

By Rob San Miguel

“Writers try too hard to be clearly brilliant
when all they really need to do is to be brilliantly clear.”
Richard Becker

For some students, they were taught that if they use many highfalutin many and flowery and unfamiliar words, their sentences or essays become more advanced.  On the contrary, it only makes their writing hard to read. 

Descriptive words are like make-up.  If you put on too much, you cover up the natural beauty of words.  It will take your readers a long time before they get your point.

For example:
Recently, in our ever-changing modern world, many heinous and unimaginable crimes are being reported in many news channels around the world such as CNN, BBC and other notable and reputable news agencies and this fact worries many people around the world.

Grammatically, the sentence above is correct but the sentence loses its power because the real intention of the writer was buried underneath many words.


1. Choose only the words that are necessary.
  • Heinous is enough. If the crime is heinous, it is unimaginable.  Unimaginable is an unnecessary adjective.
  • News channel:  News is enough.
  • CNN, BBC and other notable and reputable news agencies:  What is really your topic, news channels or heinous crime?  Your topic is crime so mentioning CNN, BBC etc. is unnecessary.
  • Recently: your tense is already “present progressive;” that means recent so adding “recently” is a bit redundant.
  • Ever-changing modern world: Obviously, our world is changing.  Everybody knows this. You can remove this phrase as well.
  • People around the world: Are you discussing crime as a world problem or just in your country or city?  If you are discussing crime as a world problem, it is all right not to mention “the world.”  We only mention places if we refer to specific places. 
Examples:
  • Crime is a big problem. [Everybody in the world knows this. This sentence is already too general]]
  • Crime is a big problem in my city. [By adding city, you clarify that you are not talking about the world]
2. Once you remove the unnecessary words, you are left with the core meaning of your sentence.
                                       
Recently, in our ever-changing modern world, many heinous and unimaginable crimes are being reported in [the] many news channels around the world such as CNN, BBC and other notable and reputable news agencies and this fact worries many people around the world.

Final sentence:
Many heinous crimes are being reported in the news and this worries many people.

3. If you feel that there is a missing piece of important information, then add it. For example, add “around the world,” if you think it is really important

Many heinous crimes are being reported in the news around the world,
and this worries many people.

4. Now, your sentence is more powerful and direct. Most importantly, you can go on to your next idea. By writing long sentences with many unnecessary words, it will take you a long time to finish your discussion.  You may end up boring your readers instead of informing or convincing them.  Personally, I always prefer active sentences; for example, "Many people are worried about the many heinous crimes being reported in the news."

I always advice my students to write a skeleton sentence first, then slowly add muscle on it. 
  • English is important.
  • English is an important language.
  • English is an important language in business and mass media.
  • Students need English to succeed.

Final sentence: 
English is an important language in business and mass media and many students need English to succeed.

5. In my opinion, the sentence á above is far better than the sentence âbelow:

English, which is spoken in many countries such as the United States, United Kingdom , Australia and other countries like India and the Philippines, is an important language not only in business but also in mass media so many students need to learn English in order to succeed in whatever endeavors in life.

6. Why?  With the first sentence, I can quickly segue to my next idea.  With the second sentence, I might just tire my readers before I finally finish my discussion.   As Richard Becker said, “Writers try too hard to be clearly brilliant when all they really need to do is to be brilliantly clear.”

P.S.
People with many good ideas explain them in very simple ways. People who have nothing worth to say buried their ignorance under so many words.  Just look at our senators and congressional representatives, and me!



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