Doyle Online Writing Lab

Word Economy

Some common sources of wordiness

  • attempts to pad one's writing to meet length requirements for academic writing.
  • attempts to ornament one's writing with jargon, clever turns-of-phrase, or complex grammatical structures believed to sound more "sophisticated."
  • lack of attention to detail: the writer's tendency to be more prolix when tired or simply not thinking about his audience.

Exercises in word economy

Don't worry too much about word economy when you are composing a first draft. After you have finished writing your paper pay particular attention to the sections you had difficulty getting down on paper. Most likely, these sections will contain a lot of "fillers"-- that is, words and phrases (like the verbal "um") that occur spontaneously when you are thinking your way through an argument. Comb your paper for unnecessary language. It can be a painstaking process, but scrutinizing the individual sentences of a paper and asking whether certain ones couldn't be restructured in a more concise form can make your argument much clearer to the reader.

  • Avoid long sentences that may obscure the ideas you are trying to set forth.
  • Avoid redundancies like: "innately inherent" or "rudimentary foundation."
  • Omitting phrases like "it is" and "there are" is generally a good idea. Such phrases often displace the sentence's subject and verb.
    For example:

    It is difficult to be honest all of the time.

    can be made more concise:

    Being honest all of the time is difficult.

  • A lot of the time you can omit the word "this" from the beginning of a sentence. Try joining it to the last sentence with a comma.
    For example:

    I was in an automobile accident when I was very young. This has resulted in my being an especially cautious driver.

    can be made more concise:

    I was in an automobile accident when I was very young, and am consequently a very cautious driver.

  • Paragraphs can become loaded with "which" and "that." Get rid of them by substituting a gerund phrase.
    For example:

    The circus, which visits every summer, is a welcome diversion for the local children.

    can be made more concise:

    The circus, visiting every summer, is a welcome diversion for the local children.

  • Avoid the passive tense: whenever possible, replace passive verbs with active ones. For example:

    The boxes will be taken by those students later this afternoon.

    can be made more concise:

    Those students will take the boxes later this afternoon.

  • When possible, change "is" or "was" (what grammarians call the "being" verbs) to a stronger verb form.
    For example:

    She is appreciative of their efforts.

    can be made more concise:

    She appreciates their efforts.

  • "Could," "should," and "would" are overused terms. Replace them with strong verbs where appropriate.
    For example:

    The children could see that something was wrong.

    can be made more concise:

    The children saw that something was wrong.

  • Quite often, words ending in "tion" and "sion" can be replaced by strong verbs.
    For example:

    He succeeded in the apprehension of the suspect.

    can be made more concise:

    He apprehended the suspect.

  • Prepositional phrases with one-word modifiers ("of," "from," etc.) can usually be replaced by adjective phrases.
    For example:

    The children of the Browns are responsible for the clearing away of the dishes after dinner.

    can be made more concise:

    The Brown children are responsible for clearing away the dishes after dinner.

  • Join two sentences with a colon when the concluding phrase of the first is essentially the introductory phrase of the second.
    For example:

    I would like to discuss three issues. These issues are poverty, homelessness, and pollution.

    can be made more concise:

    I would like to discuss three issues: poverty, homelessness, and pollution.

  • Combine closely related sentence by omitting part of one.
    For example:

    We were discussing some general concerns. These concerns included crime, gun control, and legal processes.

    can be made more concise:

    We discussed general concerns about crime, gun control, and legal processes.

Practice Sentences

Modify the following sentences for clarity and simplicity.

1. Hesiod, if the decision were his, would have a race of men that would make themselves responsible for preserving honor and perpetuating a resounding atmosphere under which all men would be compelled to treat one another with mutual respect and refrain from perpetrating wrong onto one another.

2. A reader whose experience has been characterized by Western society will find that this idea of justice, i.e. the "crime" followed by retribution and the pleasing deed followed by rewards, is indeed not at all foreign and consequently rather uninteresting.

3. Its precepts are binding in that the succeeding tiers, which play more active roles in the administration of justice, must adhere to them.

4. Hesiod is a lucky man in that he is free of the angst associated with the knowledge of the existence of injustice.

5. In describing the nature of Eros, one begins with the Theogeny of Hesiod in which the birth of the cosmos occurs through the emergence of the goddesses of Chaos and Gaia. Into this black void Eros is born, "the fairest of the deathless gods," whose existence, as a catalyst of procreation, is the means by which all gods thereafter are generated.

6. Their influence upon gods and men alike is such that the areas of the body that are affected by either Love or Strife are mutual to both.

7. We see this drastic switch to the virtues of reason quite clearly in the work of the Athenian historian Herodotus. Herodotus depicts a method of reasoned historical exploration so advanced from the works of earlier writers such as Homer, where there is absolutely no questioning of fact, that we are compelled to examine exactly how he derives the body of his narratives.



Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995. 215-33.

Marius, Richard. A Writer's Companion. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1995. 119-30.