Why Wordiness Kills Your Writing

Why Wordiness Kills Your Writing

Whether you’re writing a printed article, a blog post, a letter, an email, a brief or even a book…

No matter what you’re writing.

Wordiness is killing your writing.

I read a lot of blog posts on a weekly basis, I see this wordiness problem, more than I would care for.

Everybody is responsible for this mistake; you, me, even journalists. We all tend to include filler words that would better be left out.

At times, wordiness can also be the result of not mastering the language in which you’re writing.

I see wordiness being the number one problem with non-native English speakers.

So, if you’re a blogger whose native language is not English, you need to watch for this tendency even more, and learn how to cut, cut, and cut some more.

Another factor that may work against non native English speakers, is that it takes more words to say the same thing in your own language.

Believe me if I tell you that I know all about that.

But remember that one of the very nature of the English language, is that it’s a short phrase type language. That’s what makes it one of the easiest to learn as well.

If English is not your mother tongue, the best thing to do, when you write, is to think in English and only in English. Don’t try to translate mentally from your language.

As for the English language native folks, out there, always remember to get to the point without too many detours, and you will always be better off.

Why Wordiness Bad?

1- You’re Making the Reader do the Work

When you use too many words, you’re making the reader do the work, while YOU should be doing the work.

As a writer/blogger, your job is to make the life of the reader easy.

Reading should be enjoyable.

As a matter of fact, when you read good writing, you’re not even thinking that you’re reading, you’re just enjoying what you’re reading.

Imagine watching a movie that would be so badly done, with lots of shots and scenes that would add no value to the movie, but only confusing and losing you along the way…

How much would you enjoy watching a movie like that?

Yes, that’s right. Not much at all.

When you’re using too much wordiness in your article, you are bound to make the reader work hard to understand what you’re saying.

They will have to read some sentences two or three times before they understand what you’re saying.

As a writer or blogger, you want to avoid that by all means.

When you do your job well, as a writer, you’re making reading easy, and enjoyable.

2 – You are Killing your Article

Each article, each blog post, each book, each email… has one purpose – inform/educate the reader.

Unfortunately, such crucial purpose, would be hard to achieve if your message is hidden behind wordiness.

Don’t bury your precious information under too many filler words that will only kill it.

I took the liberty of picking a couple of lines on the net as examples of too much wordiness.

I tried to mask the guilty as much as possible.

Example #1

Original

Buyers have an ample choice of what to buy and how cheap to buy. They know which online stores will offer them the biggest discount on coming on Black Friday. They know many tips and tricks to buy the best with the lowest price.

Unnecessary words

Buyers have an ample choice of what to buy and how cheap to buy. They know which stores will offer them the biggest discount on coming on Black Friday. They know many tips and tricks to buy the best with the lowest price.

Imaging that! 16 filler words here!

A better ways to write this sentence

Buyers have ample choice to by cheap. They know which stores offer the biggest discount on Black Friday. They know all the tricks to buy the best at the lowest price.

Example #2

Original

You might be thinking, but if I tell someone that I’ll comment on their posts if they comment on mine and share them then what if those people aren’t necessarily my target audience!

Unnecessary words

You might be thinking, but if I tell someone that I’ll comment on their posts, if they comment on mine, and share them then what if those people aren’t necessarily my target audience?

4 filler words that will be better off.

Better way to write this sentence

You might be thinking, but if I tell someone that I’ll comment on their posts, if they comment on mine, and share them, what happens if those blogs aren’t my target audience?

Even shorter and still saying the same thing…

You might be thinking, if I tell someone that I’ll comment on their posts, if they comment on mine, what happens if those blogs aren’t my target audience?

Now, as you read these two example phrases, which one do you understand best? The one with the filler words or the revised one?

What about reading a whole blog post where each sentence would have you do extra work like that? How pleasurable of a reading would that be?

Now, let see other bad filler words habits that you should get rid of.

How to Get Rid of Filler Words

Eliminate redundancy

A very common bad habit that many of us have is to include 2 words that have the same meaning, one after the other, as a way of reinforcing what we’re saying.

But is it what we are really doing?

This is a very common habit, and I’m sure you’ve it seen many times.

I know they sound cool, and even I like to use them at times, but they’re not needed.

Some common examples of redundancy are:

  • First and foremost
  • Useless and unnecessary
  • Each and every
  • Whole entire
  • Full and complete
  • Free gift
  • Hopes and dreams
  • Foreign import
  • Whole entire…

While these may sound very cool to use, and as I said, ’ve used them myself, they are considered redundancy, and should be avoided.

I know, I’m still working on it too.

Here are few examples:

  • Don’t return your homework until full and complete.
  • Don’t return your homework until complete.
  • It is only natural to have hopes and dreams.
  • It is only natural to have dreams.
  • French cheeses are foreign import products.
  • French cheeses are import products.

And here the most stupid one of all that you read and hear each and every day…

  • When you complete this survey you’ll get your free gift.
  • When you complete this survey you’ll get your gift.

Try not to fall in these traps.

Reduce Prepositional Phrases

If at all possible, cut off any useless preposition such as; in, on, at, over, besides, under, for, into, about, though, next to, etc.

For example…

  • All I remember when that incident happened is that on that day, and at that time, I was on my way to work.
  • All I remember when that incident happened is that I was on my way to work.

This might not be the best example, but you get the idea.

Always make sure to lighten your sentences by reducing your usage of prepositions.

Eliminate Useless Qualifiers

Ah, qualifiers. We all love them. Don’t we?

I remember back in the keyword days when I had some stubborn clients who wanted a specific number of keywords, I always had to use a bunch of useless qualifiers. So I guess even Google used to love them too.

Here are some qualifiers we use all the time…

Really, very, probably, definitely, extremely, absolutely, completely, simply, actually, mostly, frequently, certainly, unlikely, etc.

This doesn’t mean that qualifiers are always useless, but as you edit your text, make sure that they are useful to the meaning of your phrase. If not, cut them off.

Here are two examples of useless qualifiers:

  • This dinner was simply very delightful
  • This dinner was delightful
  • I should probably leave now if I actually want to make it home before 11:00 PM.
  • I should leave now if I want to make it home before 11:00 PM

We see sentences like that all the time.

Some of it, it’s OK, I guess.

Too many, and your writing becomes heavy.

Use Active Vs Passive Voice

In my writing tutorial (available on this blog) I have a whole chapter about the importance of using active rather than passive voice.

Active voice is stronger, and makes the reader work less.

In an active sentence, the subject (the action) is first. While the object (what receives the action) comes last.

If you write a passive sentence you’ll have the object first, and the subject last.

Never a good idea when you write.

Here is a couple of examples:

  • The fence was jumped by the boy.
  • The boy jumped the fence.

(The boy is the subject – the fence is the object).

  • The famous story Les Miserables was written by French author Victor Hugo
  • French author Victor Hugo wrote the famous story Les Miserables.

(Victor Hugo is the subject – Les Miserable is the object).

As you can see, not only using an active voice makes your sentence stronger, but it gets rid of filler words by the same token, which can crop up fast when added sentence after sentence.

Conclusion

I guess we can say, that wordiness is what writers and bloggers have to battle with on a regular basis.

Wordiness is a bit like the virus of the writer. It sneaks in while we don’t realize it.

So, beware, and look for those little words that tend to pollute your writing, and makes the reader tired or even bored.

 

You’re turn now!

See if you can write the best comment ever, without too much wordiness.

 

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36 Comments

  • Craig says:

    Sylvia – My head hurts. I’m having a bad flashback to elementary school, when we were learning of prepositional phrases. Boy did I hate English Class.

    Seriously though, you are so right. I don’t consider myself to be a great writer, and I find that I use excessive wordiness from time to time. I try to catch some of this excessiveness before I publish a post, but I know things get through my filter. To bad I can’t afford an editor.

    The best way I found is coming back to a post after I’ve done what I consider my final edit. It really helps when I sleep on it, and come back to it with a fresh set of eyes. I’m amazed at how many errors or redundant words I seem to find.

    As you stated, this is something that I have to battle with all the time, and your post serves as a good refresher for me.

    Thank you for writing this.

    Craig
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Craig,

      Well, it’s not just you know, as I mentioned on the post and you’ve noted here, we all battle with wordiness, and some will slip in 🙂

      For years I’ve advised people to sleep on their writing, because it’s amazing how much you will correct and cut off the next morning. I’m glad you’re doing this. I do too. All the time.

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, and have a great day ahead!

      ~ Sylviane

  • Dita Irvine says:

    Hi Sylviane,
    awesome lesson. Thank you. I must confess I am sometimes guilty of these infractions (lol), but as much as I can I try to be as clear and concise when I write. English is not my native language and although I completed high school and university in Canada, years ago, at times I feel my non-nativeness in some of my writing.

    When in doubt I take a paragraph and plug it in the Microsoft Word and clean up all the “green underlines”. It is very helpful.

    Anyway, wishing you all the best in 2015 and thanks for the share.
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      I Dita,

      Like I said we are all guilty of wordiness. I am too, and I always chop off words as I edit my articles.

      Now, there a difference between having a few extra words and having so many that’s hard to follow the story. Most of us are not too bad, though 🙁 But a few non native writers I’ve seen, still have a lot of work to do. But I feel that if they’re not aware of it, they can’t get better, thus this post.

      Just like you, English not being my native language, I always have to be careful for “non-nativness” as you cutely said 🙂 Even though I’ve got much better over time.

      Thank you for your input, and for coming.

  • AndrewTwitter: CopyWarner says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    Great post.

    I know I’m prone to wordiness definitely. I always write a post and I input some words that could easily be left out but they’re not. I find that they give the post more substance … now I’m seeing that it’s just filler and not everyone likes it. Makes more sense to get to the point faster than draw it out.

    I love the examples you provided. Really shows me how much I really need to take editing more seriously and go over my posts to make sure I don’t have filler words.

    Again, great post.

    – Andrew

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Andrew,

      Truth be told, what ever you’re doing is fine. I love the way you write and you’re one of the blogers I really enjoy reading, so don’t worry to much. Trust me I recognize a writer when I see one 🙂

      You see, there are two kind of writers, those who put fillers – not intentionally – and those who do it intentionally. You and me and other people who can write 🙂 do it intentionally for a reason, and in such case it’s OK, and even good.

      It’s when it’s way too much or not intentional that it becomes a problem.

      So, don’t worry too much 😉

      Thanks for coming.

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hey again Andrew,

      Just went to your blog, but couldn’t see my comment when I hit submit. I was also wondering why your post is not showing here?

  • Kerry says:

    This takes me back to learning grammar in school.
    🙂
    I love English and writing, but I could never get into grammar. Too many rules and I like to be different, but that can get you into trouble.
    I do go over what I write multiple times and listen for how what I’ve written sounds. A good piece of writing is something almost magical to me, a piece of art. I can usually tell when it’s done, but at times I do tend to run on a little.
    🙂
    Thanks for all the reminders.

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Kerry,

      I think you’re writing is pretty good. I know what you mean, grammar rules can be pretty tricky to understand, and I feel that teachers don’t teach is as well now as they used to in the past, so that’s why people don’t know grammar anymore 🙂 In my days of school, in France, anyway, we still learned grammar pretty good.

      Thank you so much for coming, and you have a great week.

  • AndrewTwitter: CopyWarner says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    Thanks for the kind words. I think I still have things to work on and improve with my writing. Getting to the point faster is one of them. That’s something I’ll be working on.

    Regarding your comment on my site, it went to the spam box for whatever reason so I moved it over and approved it. I’ll be replying to it shortly.

    – Andrew

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Well, maybe, but you do it in a smart way, it’s not annoying or anything, because it’s obvious that you can write. Believe me if I tell you that I don’t say that to everyone 🙂

      Thanks. For some reason, my comments go to spam a lot these days, not sure why.

  • Corina RamosTwitter: notnowmomsbusy says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    I got an error when I submitted my first comment so I’m going to try again. I hope it’s not a duplicate.

    Thank you for this quick English lesson. I’m guilty of wordiness too. I guess in the spirit of trying to paint a clear picture of what I’m writing about I might be doing more harm than good. Your examples here are very helpful. 🙂

    I’m still learning how to write so any lesson to improve my skills is much welcomed. Thank you for putting this post together.

    I hope you had a great day!
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Corina,

      Sorry for the error, I’m glad you tried again, that’s what I do when I get errors while trying to post a comment. My developer made some adjustments so those errors should be fewer, but I guess we can’t prevent them all.

      I think they are two kinds of wordiness, the ones that are purposely done, and the ones that are not, and that’s the latter that we need to watch for. as long as you are aware of what you, you’ll be OK.

      Thank you for coming by.

  • Cole WiebeTwitter: ColeWiebe says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    Thanks for the reminder. Before I click “Publish” I will usually give my posts a thorough pruning, but they can always be better.

    Someone recently commented on how short Seth Godin’s posts are, and the blogger responded, “But look how much he says.”

    Cole
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Cole,

      Great point about Seth Godin’s post, we should not put our attention only on the length of a post. If all there is are filler words what’s the value in that? At times I edit 2,000+ word articles down to about 1,500 🙂 That’s plenty enough and I’ve got rid of all the garbage that was bringing the article down.

      Thank you for your input.

  • Harleena SinghTwitter: harleenas says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    Lol…you are SO right in all that you wrote – reminded me of school and my Grammar lessons too 🙂

    Being writers, one still does take care of all these things. But when you start blogging, you do tend to leave out so many things that you could edit and refine your post in a better way. I guess if you are rushed for time, as a blogger, you tend to slip out, which you shouldn’t as your writing is your showcase to the world, and Google also likes your posts done up well.

    Loved the little examples you gave along. I know how much time it takes, but if you write regularly, you make fewer mistakes too. So, keep writing, isn’t it?

    Thanks for sharing. Have a nice week ahead 🙂
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Harleena,

      Well, I hope this post didn’t sound too MUCH like a boring grammar book 🙂 I wrote it because I still read too many blog posts that need help, and also as a showcase for my clients of course.

      That’s very true, the more we write, the better we write. Without the shadow of a doubt.

      Thank you for dropping by, Harleena.

  • Atish Ranjan says:

    Impressive Article. I relate to this article as my mother tongue is Hindi, not English. However, English is one of prime language here in India.

    I have improved my English over the time but learning is still going on and need to improve everyday.

    Thanks for the reminder post Sylviane.

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Atish,

      I’m so glad that your English improved over time. The more we practice writing the better it gets, and that’s for native English speakers as well.

      Thanks for coming by 🙂

  • Sue PriceTwitter: suejprice says:

    Hi Sylviane

    I am not scared to comment. I say that because I do a lot of the unnecessary words. I am aware of it but far from perfect.

    I laughed at your comment on prepositions as I could not remember what they are until I read examples.

    Thanks for this post.

    Sue .

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Sue,

      I noticed that Americans do not know grammar terminology much, so you’re not the only one who wouldn’t know what a preposition is. I don’t know now, but when I was in school, grammar teaching was heavy in France, so I knew about all those terms which helps me to know them in English. They are basically called the same (translated).

      I also do use filler words, and they are not always bad. Also, it makes a big different if we use them purposely or not 🙂

      Long time no see. Thanks for coming, Sue. Hope you’re doing well.

  • Carol LynnTwitter: carollynnrivera says:

    All practical tips, Sylviane. And what it boils down to is editing! When we’re writing we’re just writing. We don’t necessarily think about the best way to say something or the simplest way. We’re just getting our ideas out. So it’s important to go back and make it better. I think just about every adverb on the planet can be ripped from the dictionary 🙂 And all those double adjectives, too. I bet everyone has little habits they should break. I know for me, I tend to use the word “really” a lot. So I make it a point to cut them all out. It’s a matter of paying attention and knowing where your fault lines are. I like all your examples, too. Sometimes it helps to see an idea in action. This is a great way for someone to start editing and improving!
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Carol,

      Well, who better than you could somerize this? You said it, it all comes to editing.

      Like you I love to use the word really, and like you I cut it off as much as I can.

      It’s funny how the diversity and richness of a language can also clutter a written piece if we’re not careful.

      Thank you for your input.

  • donna merrillTwitter: donna_tribe says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    I am guilty as charged when it comes to writing wordiness. But only in my first draft. I do have to edit like a crazy person in order to cut down what I’m trying to convey.

    I love the tips you have given us here. Especially the use of active vs. passive voice! I sure did learn a lot there! Now all I have to do is try to apply that one!

    Once again, thank you so much for the value you provide, teaching us the how-to’s when it comes to writing. I always come away with a good lesson.

    -Donna
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Donna,

      We all have to edit ourselves you know. I do too. At times I shake my head at my own mistakes, but that’s also normal because when we write we write as we think and we can’t keep up with correctness and editing at the same time.

      That’s why I always advise people not to edit as they write, it’s like using two very different parts of the brain at once, and that’s not very practical.

      Thank you for coming, Donna and enjoy the rest of your day.

  • Mandie Sanders says:

    Oh boy…English IS my first language and I still struggle with wordiness! In my defense, I write the way I talk, and I tend to ramble a bit. 😉

    That’s why I MUCH prefer writing to audio or video – you can go back and slash unnecessary words. I did a video interview awhile back and it was kind of a disaster. We did get a great blooper reel, though! Haha

    I think we all have our favorite filler words – mine is ‘definitely.’ I’m going to try not to use it once in my next 3 posts to break the habit of overusing it. Yikes.

    Also, I just have to say I love your picture up top – it made me giggle.

    Happy Tuesday!
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Mandie,

      I am like you, I’m much better at writing than speaking, because I do mess up if I knowing that I’m being recorded 🙂

      I think that my most common fillers are “really” and “definitely” as well.

      I’m glad you like the image. It’s actually the image of one of my videos. I didn’t know what type of image would go with this topic and since I use exclusively my own images, at times it’s tough to choose.

      Thanks for coming, Mandie. I appreciate that 🙂

  • Sherman SmithTwitter: shermanksmith75 says:

    Hey Sylviane,

    That’s what I like about you. You’re always giving some great writing tips. You know as i’m writing my text, I’m making every effort to follow your tips. It’s quite difficult LOL

    I use qualifiers quite a bit. Whenever I go back to read my post, I noticed that I use “Definitely” a lot and it can sound redundant. As a writer/blogger you just want to get to the point so that you don’t make the reader work extra hard as you said.

    One thing I need to work on is writing more with my active voice more so. As you said, this will make my sentences sound much stronger and the reader will get the idea instantly, instead of me “beating around the bush” so to speak!

    Thanks for sharing Sylviane! I hope you’re having a great week!
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Sherman,

      Qualifiers have their place, and like salt, with moderation, they can make your content “taste better.”

      I think that there is a difference between using filler words for a purpose, and using them by mistake. That is petty much evident to me when I read a blog post which one is which 🙂

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and for commenting here.

  • Neamat TawadrousTwitter: nkeriakos says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    That’s a great post Sylviane and as a non-native English speaker, I am so guilty of them all.

    By the way, I just noticed that these are all wordiness when I read this post. Wow, this means lots of work adjusting and omitting words when writing my next blog post. lol

    Also, thanks for explaining the active and passive voice. I never understood it as I did today.

    Thanks Sylviane for a great lesson!! Have a great week ahead.

    Be Blessed,

    Neamat
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Neamat,

      Now don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re writing is pretty good. We are all a work in progress, you know. No one knows it all.

      English not being my native tongue, you can only imagine how I used to write. I used to make lots of errors, some that were habits and I had to be so careful with those. Still have some LOL!

      Now I see native speakers that still don’t know the difference between affect and effect, while I do 🙂 so it all balances out after all.

      Thanks so much for coming and have a wonderful rest of the day!

  • AdrienneTwitter: adriennesmith40 says:

    You are right Sylviane, we all battle this.

    Most of us don’t consider ourselves to be writers, not in the sense of what I would consider professionals. We blog for the love of it or to help us grow our business.

    English was one of my least favorite subjects in school. As we’ve talked many times before, I didn’t do well in school mainly because I just didn’t understand the majority of what I was being taught. It was actually the way I was being taught. Then I graduate and go into the real world and what did I gravitate toward as a career? Secretary who better know her darn English. It’s funny how I picked it up faster when I wasn’t under the pressure to learn but I still don’t spend time on learning the proper way to phrase words. I guess I didn’t do too bad though since that was my career for over 30 years and I definitely excelled in that area.

    But I do talk a lot and I’m sure at times that comes across in my blog posts too. I try my best to not overdo things but will try to pay more attention moving forward.

    Thanks for this great lesson, one we all need to revisit.

    Have a great week.

    ~Adrienne
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Adrienne,

      Indeed, it’s interesting how English was your least favorite class in school and you ended up a secretary and now a blogger. I tell you, life is funny at times!

      In my case it was the opposite, French was my favorite class in school and the ONLY one that made sense to me too. Just like you, for a long time, I thought that I had a learning disability, but frankly, now I know that it was those dumb teachers who knew nothing about teaching.

      I learned much better on my on, later, just like you. I also did terribly in English class, and started truly learning English when I studied on my own, on my kitchen table in Paris 🙂

      Nice to see you, my friend 🙂

  • AJ Walton says:

    I find one of my biggest difficulties regarding brevity is my desire to use 3-word groupings to describe, outline, and explain things, which often creates the redundancies you refer to.

    I’m also in the hated-English-in-school club, now a blogger/writer. My love for languages really exploded after high school. Funny how these things work.

    Thanks for all the tips!

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi AJ,

      How interesting that we may not like something in school and love it later. School is not always the best place to make people like things either.

      I’m glad you love to write now.

      Thanks for your input.

  • Nataly Auger says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    I saw you on Not Now Mom’s Busy, and I just had to come and see your blog. This article is exactly what I need. Like you, I am French, and I write in English, so I need all the help I can get.

    Well, it seems that I am guilty of wordiness, and this article will help me a lot. Two things I need to correct is the use of passive voice and fillers. My favorite one is “really”. Luckily, I just got Grammarly, and it’s been a huge help.

    Thanks for sharing this with us! Have a great week ahead! 🙂

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