After overindulging during the holidays, many of us resolve in the new year to eat less and exercise more in order to lose weight and get more fit. The resulting healthy glow comes from feeling more energized, motivated and confident. Imagine imbuing your writing with the same kind of energy! Eliminating the bloat can make your writing come alive and practically jump off the page to draw readers in.
A common misconception is that using bigger words and complex sentences is the hallmark of good writing. It’s not. The purpose of writing is not to impress, but to communicate. You don’t accomplish that with 50-cent words and paragraph-long sentences. To lose weight, eat less of the fattening stuff. To lose the bloat in your writing, apply the following four tips.
1. Trim the fat
Verbosity (sounds like a rich dessert, doesn’t it?) is the bane of business writers everywhere. These unnecessary words can creep in easily and make writing dense and sluggish. The table below lists what to look for, examples and leaner options. All are constructions we see routinely in documents that come through ProofreadNOW.com.
|is able to
in order to
for the reason that
at this point in time
Redundancy (words that mean the same)
2. Choose lean words
Many times smaller words will do: use instead of utilize, cost instead of expenditure, own instead of possess, start instead of commence. When a smaller word works just as well, use it. Sometimes, though, a bigger word is needed to perfectly convey a desired nuance: saturated instead of wet, fastidious instead of picky, capricious instead of uncertain. Much will depend on the context and your audience. When you choose to use a longer word, apply the same discernment you’d use in deciding to indulge in, say, a chocolate mousse.
3. Look for hidden verbs
Just as many foods have hidden sources of fat, many verbose sentences have hidden verbs (i.e., verbs that have been turned into nouns). These hidden verbs typically need another verb for the sentence to make sense. Here’s an example from a recent document that came through us and our suggested revision:
Prevention of perioperative complications can be achieved by …
Perioperative complications can be prevented by …
Some hidden verbs end in -ment, -tion, -sion or -ance or link with verbs such as achieve, give, have, make or take. Sometimes you can find them before the word of:
We need to gain an understanding of the market response before taking corrective action.
We need to understand the market response before acting.
4. Be active
One of the easiest ways to eliminate the excess in your writing is to use active rather than passive voice. That means placing the subject before the verb. Consider the difference in sentence length in the following:
Passive: The report was submitted by the floor supervisor, Marcia Himple, after the review of the incident by her. (18 words)
Active: Marcia Himple, floor supervisor, submitted her report after reviewing the incident. (11 words)
You can read more about active versus passive voice here.
Losing weight is hard. Losing the bloat in your writing can be too. But by cultivating the habits outlined above, you’ll be on the road to leaner, more energized writing in no time.
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