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Top 5 Tips to Cut the Clutter

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"Clutter is the disease of American writing," says William Zinsser in his classic text On Writing Well. "We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon."

We can cure the disease of clutter (at least in our own compositions) by following a simple rule: don't waste words. When revising and editing, we should aim to cut out any language that is vague, repetitious, or pretentious.

In other words, clear out the deadwood, be concise, and get to the point!

1. Reduce Long Clauses

When editing, try to reduce long clauses to shorter phrases:
Wordy: The clown who was in the center ring was riding a tricycle.
Revised: The clown in the center ring was riding a tricycle.

More About Clauses:

2. Reduce Phrases

Likewise, try to reduce phrases to single words:
Wordy: The clown at the end of the line tried to sweep up the spotlight.
Revised: The last clown tried to sweep up the spotlight.

More About Phrases:

3. Avoid Empty Openers

Avoid There is, There are, and There were as sentence openers when There adds nothing to the meaning of a sentence:
Wordy: There is a prize in every box of Quacko cereal.
Revised: A prize is in every box of Quacko cereal.
Wordy: There are two security guards at the gate.
Revised: Two security guards stand at the gate.

More About Empty Openers:

4. Don't Overwork Modifiers

Do not overwork very, really, totally, and other modifiers that add little or nothing to the meaning of a sentence.
Wordy: By the time she got home, Merdine was very tired.
Revised: By the time she got home, Merdine was exhausted
Wordy: She was also really hungry.
Revised: She was also hungry [or famished].

More About Modifiers:

5. Avoid Redundancies

Replace redundant expressions (phrases that use more words than necessary to make a point) with precise words. Check out this list of common redundancies, and remember: needless words are those that add nothing (or nothing significant) to the meaning of our writing. They bore the reader and distract from our ideas. So cut them out!
Wordy: At this point in time, we should edit our work.
Revised: Now we should edit our work.

More About Needless Words:


NEXT STEPS:
Five More Ways to Cut the Clutter
Practice in Cutting the Clutter

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