What happens when there’s too many words

Fighting clutter is like fighting weeds What’s a story with the right words? Art.

What’s a story with too many words? A disaster.

One of the issues beginning writers have is wordiness. So many words to say one thing! What should be simple becomes more complex as the number of words increase. Sometimes, more is just more and it really should be less.

For this post, I consulted one of my favorite books about writing, On Writing Well from William Zinsser. (Great stuff here, guys. Grab yourselves a copy.)

He said, “fighting clutter is like fighting weeds — the writer is always slightly behind.”

And that’s true. You never see the clutter in a story until after you’ve already written it. Then how does a writer and editor get ahead of it? Revision, which happens at the end of the writing process. That means you have to make the mistake to fix it. Then, with time and experience, you’ll naturally become less wordy. Consider tackling wordiness, like with everything else, a process. You should be constantly working on it and constantly improving.

So, let’s look at some wordiness in some recent stories. Here’s a paragraph that was written in a recent story.

Daawat, which means feast, is a means by which the Indian Cultural Council can bring Diwali, a traditional Indian festival celebrating the victory of good over evil, here to Arlington, said Sashidhar Raghuraman, mechanical engineering graduate student and council president.

There’s so much going on here — defining a word, talking about a festival, an attribution. There’s so many words! Here’s how you fix this.

Daawat, which means feast, celebrates Diwali, a traditional Indian festival celebrating good triumphing over evil.

Three and a half lines into one and a half.  I bet you’re wondering about the attribution. The Diwali celebration and its meaning is a statement of fact, meaning it’s not proprietary information and can be looked up. Therefore, doesn’t need to be attributed. Watch out though! If the source says something different from your research and he’s speaking from a stance of knowledge (a researcher, saw the things with their own eyes, etc) then you should attribute it to them.

Here’s another example. This one is from the nursing Ebola story.

Bavier said they are using core courses such as physiology, chemistry and biology that nursing students have already taken to answer the question of how to take care of someone when their body is being negatively affected.

Here’s the edited version.

Professors are using core courses — physiology, chemistry and biology — for discussions about patient care, Bavier said.

So how do you get rid of wordiness? Here’s some tips.

1.) The word “that” is sometimes not needed. Eliminate word.

2.) The word “of” usually denotes wordiness. So saying Mike is the brother of Beth, you should say Beth’s brother Mike.

3.) These words are just bad words to use: a lot, very, got. They usually don’t add anything to the sentence and are usually filler words for something else. Eliminate. (If you’re a Doctor Who fan, exterminate!)

4.) Use your words to eliminate other words. If those five words mean some thing else, use that some thing else. Like in our example, “how to take care of someone when their body is being negatively affected”  becomes “patient care”.

 

Want more tips? Here’s a blast from the past from the No Bull archives. 

Now go forth and write less wordy copy!

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6 thoughts on “What happens when there’s too many words

  1. Nice. Another thing to think about is when you are paraphrasing. It’s natural to want to try and say it like they said it but the people we interview, and conversational style in general, can be wordy. So when paraphrasing, really take a look at what they said and try to eliminate wotds using Icess’ rules and your own judgment. However, just like with quotes, don’t change the cord of they said. See ya tomorrow.

  2. I love this! Thanks Icess!

    ..And Kenney I agree, sometimes our sources can drag something simple on and on, when it could be condensed into one sentence. So this is something we can all learn from and move forwards from! Let’s eliminate the wordiness!

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