Wordiness Kills Clarity

I try to leave out the parts that people skip. —Elmore Leonard


Author Leonard knows a thing or two about using words. He published 17 novels and articles—several which were made into movies, starting with westerns and then to fiction, especially crime fiction.

When I am working with a “wordy” writer, I relay Leonard’s wisdom.

As an editor of books and business communications, I’ve noticed we’ve become wordy, without being clear. This is a quick way to lose your reader, whether in a book or important business document.

A new client told me several publishers responded that she was a good storyteller, but her manuscript was filled with wordiness—and it was. After I edited it, the story didn’t get lost.

However, we’ve become lazy, using simple words, which aren’t always the best, e.g., I “got” your report. GOT is such an ugly word. I “received” your report or your report “arrived” are better word choices.

According to Write in Style, watch for these words in ALL your writing. Do a search/find for anything you write, and review/change these words: was, do, place, put, would/could, did, had, got, realized, take/took, thought, felt, believed.

Many of my clients overuse these words—and I suggest they make a list and keep it by their computer. Then before they submit the story to be edited, they should do a search/find for these words, some of which include: then, that, so, even, sometimes, just, still, there is/are, only.

They are acceptable words, but any word when overused loses its value. Plus, your writing will improve. One client is an excellent writer and proofreader, but when I read her manuscript, I noticed an extensive overuse of “there is/are” starting sentences. However, I wasn’t reading as an editor, but reading it so I could write an endorsement. Now I was challenged—at this late date, should I tell her what I discovered?

I did, and she was shocked how often she started sentences with “there is/are,” but was delighted that her writing was much stronger when she reworked those sentences.

Often words like just, so, even and still are overused—and many times are not needed. They become words you throw into the sentence.

We all do it…what’s your “overused” word?