Principles of Writing: How to Avoid Wordiness
A series on the principles of good scholarly writing.
Scholarly writing requires clear communication.
To achieve this, writers must be concise—meaning they say only what needs to be said. When writers load sentences with extra verbiage or include asides that aren’t relevant to the argument, it’s called wordiness. Wordiness hurts communication because it forces readers to disentangle the useful parts of the writing from the unnecessary parts, which can slow down or even impede readers’ understanding. Your message will be lost if your writing is too wordy.
In this post I will discuss some practical strategies for reducing wordiness by highlighting several common wordy phrases and their alternatives.
- Phrases involving “the facts.” Examples: based on the fact that, due to the fact that, in spite of the fact that, because of the fact that, and so forth:
Any phrase that involves “the facts” is potentially wordy; instead, when possible, use because or although. Here are some examples:
- Wordy: Due to the fact that the measure was unavailable, I selected another.
- Concise: Because the measure was unavailable, I selected another.
- Wordy: In spite of the fact that half the participants dropped out the study, we still conducted Phase 2.
- Concise: Although half the participants dropped out of the study, we still conducted Phase 2.
- Phrases involving “purpose” and “order.” Examples: for the purpose of, in order to, in order that, and so forth.
Wordiness can creep in when you’re describing why something happened. Often phrases like for the purpose of can be eliminated, and others, like in order to, can be streamlined (in this case, to just to). Here are some examples:
- Wordy: We administered surveys for the purpose of assessing motivation.
- Concise: We administered surveys to assess motivation.
- Wordy: We designed the study in order to investigate different aspects of personality.
- Concise: We designed the study to investigate different aspects of personality.
- Phrases involving “importance” and “interestingness.” Examples: it is important to note that, importantly, interestingly, it is interesting to note that, it is essential that, and so forth.
Leave things that aren’t important or interesting out of your paper. Write your sentences to highlight what is actually important or interesting—for example, begin by noting the result or the implication, not the fact that you are noting it. Also place an important concept at the beginning of a section or paragraph to draw more attention to it, rather than burying it. Here are some examples:
- Wordy: It is important to note that our study has implications for counseling practice.
- Concise: Our study has important implications for counseling practice.
- Wordy: It is interesting to note that results diverged from the hypothesis.
- Concise: Results diverged from the hypothesis. We found it interesting that…
These are just three examples of how writers can avoid wordiness in their scholarly writing. For more on this topic, see Publication Manual § 3.08 on Economy of Expression. If you have further questions about this topic, leave a comment below.