Seven Tips for Tighter Writing

Writing should be a vehicle for clear communication, not a barrier. Here are a few tips to help you clean up your drafts.

1. Use a solid verb.

Most of the time one good verb can say it all. Don’t use cluttered phrases with secondary verbs and nouns. (Look for -ion endings.) While sometimes appropriate for speaking (especially in politics!), be wary of them when writing. Think: What is the crucial action of the sentence? Use that verb.

The team has the intention of performing well. (has—weak)
The team intends to perform well. (intends—strong)

We made the decision to abandon the project.
We decided to abandon the project.

Employees might show opposition to the new policy.
Employees might oppose the new policy.

We exercised effective control over increased spending.
We effectively controlled increased spending.

We’ll take it under consideration.
We’ll consider it.

2. Remove there is/are and it is/it’s.

Cut to the subject.

There are many businesses that sell used furniture.
Many businesses sell used furniture.

There are ten committee members who support the idea.
Ten committee members support the idea.

The client says there are too many risks involved in the project.
The client says the project involves too many risks.
(Or: The client says the project is too risky.)

It’s the lack of funding that hinders our research.
Lack of funding hinders our research.

3. Trim prepositions and prepositional phrases.

This can often be done by using a modifier, a more succinct phrase, or removing the phrase altogether.

Member of the board
Board member

On the basis of extensive research
Based on extensive research

We are in the process of developing a plan.
We are developing a plan. (developing already implies that it is a current process.)

4. Avoid clichés.

Complete the phrase: spread like _____, flat as a _____, think outside the _____. If you expected wildfire, pancake, and box, so will your readers. If it’s an expression you would anticipate using, think twice before using it. Surprise your audience. Think outside your socks.

5. Revise passive sentences.

Where appropriate, change passive sentences to active. Active sentences are typically stronger, though a passive one is sometimes a better choice.

A review of the budget was done. (Passive – something is acted upon)
The budget was reviewed. (Better, but still passive)
The controller reviewed the budget. (Active – someone is doing something)

The approval of the project was delayed by legal issues.
Legal issues delayed the project’s approval.

6. Fix redundancy.

Don’t modify a word with another one whose meaning is contained in the first. One word will do.

cooperate together > cooperate
close proximity > close or proximity
basic essentials > essentials or basics
refer back > refer
repeat again > repeat
return again > return
revert back > revert
true fact > fact
completely unanimous > unanimous
tall skyscraper > skyscraper

7. Eliminate wordiness.

Don’t camouflage simple words with inflated phrases.

along the lines of > like
as a matter of fact > in fact
at this point in time > now, currently
because of the fact that > because
due to the fact that > because
for the reason that > because
in light of the fact that > because
by means of > by, with
for the purpose of > for
in spite of the fact that > although, though
in the event that > if

Words of wisdom

“Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time,” writer William Zinsser confesses in his book, On Writing Well. “Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”

Writing well is certainly an intricate craft. Take some time to learn it and practice it, and you’ll be well on your way to better communication.