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Improve Your Writing: Get Rid of Unneeded Words

In an age when people do not have time to read thoroughly, it helps to free your writing of unneeded words. If you can't get a good editor, keep reading for some examples of what unneeded words look like in a phrase or sentence, and edited versions below, followed by a couple tips:

He has a long-standing interest in…

He is interested in…

 

Dr. X’s research interests are in genomics and mental health …

Dr. X researches genomics and mental health… 

 

…has long worked to ensure…

…works to…

 

There is a disagreement about whether the state or the city is responsible for paying for the MTA.

The state and the city disagree over which body should pay for the MTA.

 

The scenario with which people tend to be most familiar is the one in which…

People are most familiar with…

Reasons People Use Unneeded Words

There are a few patterns here. The first is that all of the phrases or sentences with unnecessary words use passive voice. In passive voice, an action happens to the subject, whereas in active voice, the subject takes action. Sentences that use active voice in most cases work better because they are clearer, more concise, and more dynamic.

The example sentences or phrases above also use an official tone. There’s something about this tone that causes people to do a lot of “throat clearing”: using important-sounding but unneeded words or phrasing before getting to the point.

To figure out whether your writing sounds too official, mimic to yourself the voice that would say the words you are writing. For example, if I read “The scenario with which people tend to be most familiar is the one in which…” it sounds to me like something a long-winded British professor would say—someone who might literally clear his throat a lot. Maybe in some cases you want to sound like a long-winded British professor, but I’m guessing you probably don’t. 

Send Me Your Examples

Writers, editors, and anyone else, just for some fun, what are your favorite uses of unnecessary words? Share them here in the comments section!