Revising Sentences for Conciseness

Effective writing is concise, with no unnecessary words. The terms "wordy" and "wordiness" refer to writing that includes unnecessary words. Note that a sentence is not "wordy" just because it is long. A sentence can be long and concise. Nor is a paragraph or an essay necessarily wordy just because it is long. "Wordiness" refers to the use of unnecessary words to express ideas that can be expressed with fewer words. This page explains some of the ways that you can avoid wordiness in your writing. Notice how, in the examples below, no meaning is lost from the original sentences in the sentences revised for conciseness.

1. Eliminate Common Wordy Expressions

Some wordy expressions are so common that we can make a list of them, and one such list appears on the "Words, Words, Words" Web page. Eliminating these common expressions from your essays can make your writing more concise.


  Wordy: George's wife is a woman who is unhappy because of the fact that George ignores her. (16 words)

  Wordy: In this day and age, people are under the impression that it is important to express ideas in a concise manner. (21 words)

2. Combine Sentences to Avoid Wordiness

You may be able to eliminate many unnecessary words simply by combining some sentences in an essay, especially if a sentences repeats information presented in the sentence before it.


  Wordy: George's wife repeatedly expresses her desire for the cat in the rain. This desire for the cat suggests her need for companionship. (22 words)

  Wordy: The narrator says that "water stood in pools on the gravel paths." This quotation suggests the stagnant relationship between George and his wife. (23 words)

  Wordy: Dark clouds gather over the mountains. The dark clouds gathering over the mountains indicate that a storm is approaching. (19 words)   


3. Avoid Stating Information Already Implied

A sentence can be wordy because it includes information that is already implied in other parts of the sentence. We might also refer to this form of wordiness as "stating the obvious."


  Wordy: Hemingway conveys the idea that the setting of the story reflects the troubled relationship between George and his wife. (19 words)

  Wordy: If one looks at the painting carefully, one notices that there are dark clouds gathering over the mountains. (18 words)

4. Avoid "There is" and "There are" Constructions

As the second example above suggests, sentences using "there is" and "there are" often can be written more concisely. Overuse of "There is" and "There are" is also a common stylistic weakness.


  Wordy: There are children that are playing near the base of the mountain. (12 words)

  Wordy: There is a snow-capped mountain that appears on the left, and there are storm clouds that are gathering in the background. (21 words)   

5. Eliminate Unnecessary Repetition of Words or Ideas

Some repetition of important words can help strengthen the cohesion of an essay, but unnecessary repetition of words can cause wordiness, especially repetition of words in a single sentence. Repetition of ideas in a sentence often is unintentional but can be caught and eliminated through revision.


  Wordy: In the story "Cat in the Rain," the setting of the story reflects the troubled relationship between George and his wife in the story. (24 words)

  Wordy: The gathering storm clouds appear threatening and ominous. (8 words)

6. Avoid Use of the Passive Voice

The passive voice sometimes is necessary, but it should be avoided if possible. Overuse of the passive voice can lead to wordy sentences. (For more information about the passive voice, see the "Words, Words, Words" Web page.)


  Wordy: The gathering clouds are emphasized by the artist, but the approaching storm does not seem to be noticed by the children. (21 words)

  Wordy: The elephant is killed by Orwell even though the villagers are no longer threatened by it. (16 words)

7. Avoid Use of the First Person

Use of the first person should be avoided in formal essays because it gives an informal tone to writing. Use of the first person also can cause wordiness. (For more information about use of the first person, see the Formal Writing Voice page.)


  Wordy: I think that George's wife is unhappy because George ignores her. (11 words)

  Wordy: I believe that the storm clouds suggest the danger that, in my opinion, children sometimes ignore. (16 words)

8. Avoid "To Be" Constructions

We would not have much left if we removed the "to be" from Shakespeare's "To be, or not to be," but these two words often can be deleted from a sentence with no loss of meaning.


  Wordy: George's wife appears to be unhappy. (6 words)

  Wordy: The storm clouds appear to be dark and ominous, but the children seem to be unaware of the approaching storm. (20 words)

9. Avoid Progressive Verb Tenses

Progressive verb tenses follow the pattern of am-is-are-was-were-will be verb-ing, as in "Jane is sitting by the window" and "the students will be reading poetry." Progressive tenses sometimes are necessary, but they often can be replaced by the simple past, present, of future tense, as in "Jane sits by the window" and "the students will read poetry."


  Wordy: George is reading his book while his wife is looking out the window. (13 words)

  Wordy: Storm clouds are gathering over the mountains. (7 words)

"Get rid of words? But I need to reach at least the minimum required length for my essay!"

True, but you do not want your essay to be filled with words that are so unimportant that they can be deleted from your essay without any loss of meaning. And it is a fact that readers do not appreciate having to make their way through all of those unnecessary and unimportantwords.