How to... write more simply Part: 5



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How to... write more simply

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Avoiding wordiness

There are many ways of avoiding wordiness. A few basic guidelines are given in this section.

Cut the clutter

Good writers develop a concise style, which avoids redundant words. A good tip for editing a draft is to go through it and cross out any words which don't add to the meaning, while at the same time looking for more concise ways of saying the same thing.

Original version

Vocabulary acquisition is naturally a basic skill for all language students and much research has been done in this domain at all levels from ab initio to advanced study (Chesters et al., 1992; Meara, 1997). A group of academics within the French Department decided upon the idea of designing a micro-computer program that would allow students to learn French vocabulary in such a way, that:

  1. the learning would be faster
  2. the lecturer input would be less
  3. the effectiveness of learning would be enhanced

Edited version

Vocabulary acquisition is a basic skill for all language students, and is the subject of research at all levels from ab initio to advanced study (Chesters et al., 1992; Meara, 1997). A group of academics within the French Department decided to design a micro-computer program to help student to learn French vocabulary faster, more effectively, and with less lecturer input.

Avoid circumlocutions

A "circumlocution" is the use of many words when just a few will do – an easy trap to fall into when trying to make a point a little more forcefully! Here are some examples, together with simpler ways of expressing the same idea:

Avoid "padding" words and tautologies

There are some other words of this type which are pure padding and can be omitted – for example, "basically", or "current" as in "the current chairman" when you are not referring to past or future chairmen.

Tautologies are those words which mean the same thing: safe haven, future prospects, weather conditions, etc. Sometimes, tautologies are used for rhetorical effect, but at other times removing one unnecessary word will improve conciseness.

Avoid unnecessary determiners, qualifiers and modifiers

There are some words which appear to modify a noun but which merely clutter up the sentence.


Managers need some [kind of] extra help if they are to avoid getting bogged down with paperwork.

It is [basically] in order to ...

The [sort of] person I would like to meet is ...

The software was implemented and tested on a cohort of level 2 students who had, [in general], studied French for 8 years.

[To a certain extent] women no longer lag behind men in terms of pay in certain areas.

Either omit these words or give specific details.

Avoid using noun formulations of verbs

There is an increasing tendency in the English language to use nown formations to replace a perfectly good verb.


The articles should de-mystique the subject by explaining complicated concepts and offering definitions where appropriate.

should be

The articles should demystify the subject by explaining complicated concepts and offering definitions where appropriate.

The top example uses a nown formation from "mystique", but the word "demystify" means just the same thing and is more common parlance.

Change clauses into phrases and phrases into single words

Sometimes, phrasal constructions can be reduced to adjectives:

Relative clauses can also sometimes be reworded:

Other clauses can be worded more simply as in the following example, in which two clauses are put together as one:

Try and avoid phrases like "It was", and "There is":

Some infinitive phrases (those that use verbs with "to") can be turned into sentences with active verbs:

Sometimes verbal phrases with gerunds (-ing words) can be turned into adjectives:

Avoid repetition or excessive detail

When you read through a draft, check you are not repeating things unnecessarily or putting in too much detail.


The purpose of this paper is to describe the experience of a team of academics in the Department of French, School of Modern Languages within the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Studies at the University Institute of X in the development of a Computer-assisted learning software program.

Here, we do not need to know all the details of the department's position in the organization! The authors go on to provide great detail about the process of acquiring funds for the exercise, which again is unnecessary and detracts from the main focus of the article, which is about the development of CAL software.


During the phase the team and the software programmer met on four occasions to discuss strategy at the planned Phase 1 strategy meetings.

As the author includes this under the heading "Phase 1", all the information after "strategy" is redundant.

Printed from: on Monday December 18th, 2017
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