Concision

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Effective academic writing should be clear and concise, with no unnecessary words to dilute or confuse the author’s meaning. Below are five ways to trim excess words from your writing.

1. Eliminate words that explain the obvious or provide excessive detail

Always consider readers while drafting and revising writing. If passages explain or describe details that would already be obvious to readers, delete or reword them.

2. Eliminate unnecessary determiners and modifiers

Writers sometimes clog up their prose with one or more extra words or phrases that seem to determine narrowly or to modify the meaning of a noun but don't actually add to the meaning of the sentence. Although such words and phrases can be meaningful in the appropriate context, they are often used as "filler" and can easily be eliminated.

These words and phrases can often be pruned away to make sentences clearer:

kind of

sort of

type of

really

basically

for all intents and purposes

definitely

actually

generally

individual

specific

particular

3. Omit repetitive wording

Watch for phrases or longer passages that repeat words with similar meanings. Words that don't build on the content of sentences or paragraphs are rarely necessary.

4. Omit redundant or illogical pairs

Many pairs of words imply each other. Finish implies complete, so the phrase completely finish is redundant in most cases. So are many other pairs of words:

basic fundamentals

each individual _______

end result

final outcome

free gift

future plans

important essentials

past history

past memories

sudden crisis

terrible tragedy

true facts

unexpected surprise

various differences

very unique

5. Omit redundant categories

Specific words imply their general categories, so we usually don't have to state both. We know that a period is a segment of time, that pink is a color, that shiny is an appearance. In the following phrases, the general category term can be dropped, leaving just the specific descriptive word:

large in size

often times

of a bright color

heavy in weight

period in time

round in shape

at an early time

economics field

of cheap quality

honest in character

of an uncertain condition

in a confused state

unusual in nature

extreme in degree

of a strange type

Adapted from the Purdue OWL Guide, https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/conciseness/eliminating_words.html, 2020.