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Practice in Cutting the Clutter

Editing to Eliminate Deadwood

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What we take out of our writing can be just as important as what we put in. Here we'll apply some key editing strategies for cutting out needless words--deadwood that only bores, distracts, or confuses our readers.

Before starting this exercise, you may want to review the ten points introduced in Tips to Cut the Clutter and More Ways to Cut the Clutter:

  • Reduce long clauses to shorter phrases.
  • Reduce phrases to single words.
  • Avoid There is, There are, and There were as sentence openers.
  • Don't overwork modifiers.
  • Avoid redundancies.
  • Use active verbs.
  • Don't try to show off.
  • Cut empty phrases.
  • Avoid using noun forms of verbs.
  • Replace vague nouns with more specific words.
Now, let's put this advice to work. The sentences below contain unnecessary words. Without eliminating any essential information, revise each sentence to make it more concise. When you're done, compare your revisions with the shortened sentences on page two.

TIP: To view this exercise without ads, click on the printer icon near the top of the page.


  1. In the cellar there are four wooden-type crates with nothing in them that might perhaps be used by us for storing paint cans inside of.

  2. This morning at 6:30 a.m., I woke up out of sleep to hear my alarm go off, but the alarm was turned off by me, and I returned back to a sleeping state.

  3. The reason that Merdine was not able to be in attendance at the hockey game was because she had jury duty.

  4. Omar and I, we returned back to the hometown where we both grew up to attend a reunion of the people that we went to high school with ten years ago in the past.

  5. Melba has designed a very unique kind of shirt that is made out of a polyester type of material that never creases into wrinkles when it rains and the shirt gets wet.

  6. She used her money to purchase a large-type desk made of mahogany wood that is dark brown in color and handsome to look at.

  7. In view of the fact that it was raining down, orders were given that the game be canceled.

  8. At that point in time when Merdine was a teenager the basic fundamentals of how to dance were first learned by her.

  9. Some sort of identification that would show how old we were was requested of us by the man that collects tickets from people at the movie theater.

  10. There is a possibility that one of the causes of so many teenagers running away from home is the fact that many of them have indifferent parents who don't really care about them.

Also see: Campaign to Cut the Clutter: Zinsser's Brackets.


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