Eliminating Fluff

“Wordiness” causes a whole variety of negative consequences. Efficiency can make your reader feel entertained, welcome, educated and most importantly, engaged.

 

Active vs. Passive Voice

Writers fall into the trap of passive voice frequently. This results in side effects like disengagement or chronological confusion.  This is not to say that passive voice is useless; writers just often overuse it. Say a writer wants to make a point definitively, they can say:

Patricia is wrong!

Although passive, the statement reflects a ‘matter-of-fact’ attitude.

Passive voice affects efficiency when it proves to be unnecessary.

Why say:

A ball was flying through the air by a pitcher who was throwing it to the catcher.

When you could just as easily say:

A pitcher threw a ball to the catcher.

Passive voice takes the subject (A ball) and has an action happen to it.

Active voice gives the action to the subject (A pitcher). It’s a matter of perspective.

So, the sentence structure looks like:

Subject-Verb-Object (Something does something to something else)

Rather than

Subject-To Be Verb (Something happens to something)

To spot passive sentences, look for To-Be Verbs:

Be, Am, Is, Are, Was, Were, Being, Been

Active voice eliminates extra words AND contains more information.

 

Modifiers

 

Writer’s often try to pack as much information into a sentence as they can, giving their readership as much context as possible. Writers need to trust their audience to understand what they say. Throwing in more information than necessary causes readers to feel as if they are being talked down to or makes them feel bogged down.

Saying:

The doctor visited her patient.

Conveys nearly the same amount of information as:

In the hospital, the doctor, who had her PhD in Medicine, visited her patient, who was not feeling well, in a room that had a hospital bed inside.

The added prepositional phrases cause a reader to suck in a bunch of information that they could have just assumed from the simplified version. Writers must ask themselves:

Is this information necessary for my reader to understand what I am trying to say?

If it is not necessary, cut it.

Of course, prepositional phrases and dependent clauses often prove useful, but an efficient writer pays attention to when it’s useful and when it’s not.

 

Adverbs

 

Words like:

Really, Very and So

And even words like:

Extremely, Extraordinarily or Incredibly

Often do not convey as much information as writers intend.

Take these sentences:

The cyclops was huge.

The cyclops was really huge.

The cyclops was so huge.

The cyclops was extremely huge

Does the image change that much with each new iteration? Not really. A writer will do their readers a favor by either giving them something practical:

The cyclops towered fifty feet tall.

Or use figurative language:

Looking at the cyclops made me feel like a beadle staring up at an oak tree.

Or… cut it.

The cyclops was huge.

It’s okay. I promise. Your reader will pick up on what you are saying without ‘very’ or ‘extremely’.

 

Other strategies for eliminating fluff exist, but it all boils down to a writer scrutinizing their own words and asking themselves two questions:

Is this necessary for my audience to know?

If not, cut it. Please, don’t be afraid to cut.

And

Can I say this same thing in fewer words?

If so, do it.

 

Write efficiently, my friends.

William Hunter

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