Here’s an exercise to help you cut the wordiness from your piece:
Choose an “illegal” word or phrase from the following list:
- there was
- began to
- started to
- -ing words (when they’re the first word in a sentence)
Using your word processor’s “Find and Replace” function, change every instance of the “illegal” word to ALL CAPS.
Find “very” and replace it with VERY
When you change the word to ALL CAPS, it will jump out at you. If you prefer not to change the word to CAPS, do a “Find.” Each time your computer finds very, ask yourself, “Do I need to use very in this sentence? Ninety-nine percent of the time, you can axe very.
Four more words you can almost always chop:
They’re just filler. Did you notice my illegal use of just in the previous sentence? I can just delete just and the sentence will be stronger: They’re filler.
One of the most common illegal words is really. Experiment with this sentence:
The basketball player is really tall.
How tall is really tall? 5 feet? 6 feet? 7 feet?
Instead of the vague really tall, show us how tall the player is: The NBA player dunked the ball while standing flat-footed.
Now that’s tall! You can visualize the player in the revision, whereas in the original sentence, the player’s height is anyone’s guess.
The illegal word that plagues me is that. That mysteriously appears in far too many of my sentences. Of course, not every instance of that can be removed, but most of them can disappear and no one will be the wiser.
What illegal words and phrases invade your writing most often?