Authors often get carried away with their writing, particularly in their descriptions. Using superfluous words is an editor’s nightmare.
Superfluous means: being more than is needed, useful or wanted.
An excellent way to make your writing stronger is to cut unneeded words. People often carry-over their habit of run-on talking to their writing. Too many words can make a piece redundant and boring making it less confident and precise than it would be using fewer words.
Take care though you cannot just cut any words, some must stay but elimination of some words will not harm your writing at all. Some of the words are:
- Sort of
- Kind of
- For all intents and purposes
There are some words that we tend to use together that are all called redundant pairs, because the words say the same things and one is enough. Examples are:
- Past memories (all memories are past)
- Various differences (both words mean the same, use only one of them)
- Each individual (both words mean the same, use only one of them)
- True facts (facts are true)
- Terrible tragedy (all tragedies are terrible)
- Unexpected surprise (a surprise is unexpected)
Adverbs and Adjectives modify other words, but sometimes the modification does nothing to improve the sentence. If the sentence isn’t better and clearer with the modifier, drop it.
- Example: We walked through the green grass. (the reader already knows instinctively that the grass is green)
- I picked the little yellow and white flowers growing next to the tall tree. (Naming the flower is more specific and the reader knows that trees are taller than flowers)
Other Ways to cut words:
Not can often be eliminated, as can “as if,” “looked like” and “seemed to.”
“Just” is one of the most overused words. Examples are: “I just felt like calling you.” Should be “I felt like calling you.”
“If you could just give me a call….” Can be shortened to “if you could give me a call…”
“Really” is another overused as well as misused word. If really is used about yourself the impression is that you are unsure of what the reader thinks your intentions are. Example: I am really working on the report (as opposed to not working on the report?).
It can sound patronizing if used about someone else. “Your report is really good” (sounds condescending).
If one word will do, don’t use two. Don’t modify a word that doesn’t need a modifier. Read your piece out loud and if you find the wording awkward take out some words, or use clearer words. Writing needs to be easily understood by everyone who reads the article or book. Never drown the reader in a description so detailed that the rest of the scene gets lost. Use common sense and be confident in your writing and you will have a successful manuscript.