Join Judy Steiner-Williams for an in-depth discussion in this video How to avoid wordiness, part of Writing in Plain English.
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- Due to the fact that you're interested in learning more about readability, you are taking this course. You'll be glad to know that in this course you will learn about readability indices. Readability indices help you determine how readable your writing is. In order to benefit from the information in this course, you'll need to listen carefully and analyze the information. When you do this kind of analysis, you may find areas in which you can improve. Reviewing how you write on a daily basis can be helpful. At this point in time, in order to continue improvement, think about the areas in which your writing can be improved.
Oh, I had to take a breath after that! It was hard to read and I hope you didn't think that's effective writing. 113 words with a readability of about 11, indicating an 11th grade level. We know what every word means, the average syllable is 1.7, and no sentence is more than 22 words. In fact, the average is about 15. No particular red flag. So what is the problem? It's wordy! How long does it take to read those 113 words? About 1/2 a minute.
Not bad, right? We'll come back to that question shortly. So let's look at the general wordiness. First, look at the wordy expressions. Due to the fact that. Let's replace that with because. At this point in time. Why not now? Next, look at the overuse of the same expression or word. Course, readability, readability indices, information, improvement, analyze, analysis, writing, and even the word you and your.
The word can show reader benefit. That concept is discussed thoroughly in my Business Writing Fundamentals and Business Writing Strategies. But in this example, you becomes redundant. And one of the biggest culprits is preposition overuse. Another of my courses, Grammar Fundamentals, discusses prepositions in depth. The preposition in the example are to, in, from, of, on, and about. A dozen of those little words. How much damage can they do? The short answer is, they often add nothing but unnecessary words.
For you grammar purist, yes, some of these prepositions are used as infinitives. But for this discussion, we'll group them together. So, let's revise. This course focuses on helping you find your writing's readability level in various ways. As you learn and apply the concepts, your writing will become more readable. We now have two sentences, 27 words, 1.7 syllable average, and a readability of 8.3. But just as importantly, how long does it take you to read that passage aloud? About 10 seconds.
1/3 of the time of the first version. What happened? Now, only two prepositions. The overused words are gone. The sentences are shorter. So, the readability is improved. So as you chop your writing to make it more readable, circle all the prepositions. Your goal shouldn't be to delete all of them, but always ask if the phrase can be written with fewer words. One specific place to look for needless prepositions is at the end of the sentence.
Where are you at? Should be, where are you? What did you do that for? Should be, why did you do that? Look at the prepositions. In order to win the award, you will need to meet all of the criteria. Why not, to win the award, you will need to meet all criteria. 15 words versus 11 words. Four prepositions versus two prepositions. In these brief examples, the complete impact making these types of changes in a long document may be difficult to visualize.
But if a document is two pages with an average of 250 words per page, then that 500 word report can be reduced to about 350 words. One and 1/3 page. Or that 10 page report may be reduced to seven pages. I'll always choose a seven page report to read over a 10 page report, any time. And I'm guessing most of you will also. Will writing the seven page report take longer for the writer than writing the 10 page report? Probably.
At least until the writer learns how to write that rough draft and then starts chopping. Chop wordy expressions. Chop redundant words or phrases. Chop prepositions. You can use your computer program's find feature to search for specific words after you've finished that first or second draft. If the find result shows certain prepositions or words being overused, then you have a starting place to start chopping as you continue revising to get rid of that general wordiness.
If you can write in plain English, you can save time, save money, and save face in communications. Start watching to learn how to make your writing more "plain": stronger, clearer, and more concise.
- Understanding plain English
- Catching mistakes by reading aloud
- Simplifying sentences
- Using strong verbs and meaningful words
- Avoiding corporate jargon
- Finding the right voice and tone
- Editing flow and content
- Writing in a conversational style