Chapter 14: Eliminating Wordiness

Learning Objectives

After this section, you should be able to:

  • Explain why concise writing is important in professional communication
  • Identify common causes of wordy writing
  • Apply the six methods listed below to make a piece of writing more concise.

Key Terms and Concepts

  • conciseness
  • lead-ins
  • jargon
  • plain words

The Basics

In your university classes, you are probably used to trying to stretch out your writing to reach that 1000-word goal for an essay. This is a habit you want to avoid in professional communication because professional audiences— employees, clients, supervisors, etc.—prefer writing that is clear and, most importantly, concise. For our purposes, conciseness means using the fewest words possible to achieve the goal of communication.

What is the goal of communication? It is to ensure that your reader understands your intended meaning. Just ask yourself, if you were given the choice between reading a 500 word article and a 250 word article that both say the same thing, which one would you prefer to read?

To be clear, there is nothing grammatically wrong with all the examples we will cover below. However, having perfect grammar doesn’t mean a message is particularly well-written either. The issue here is a matter of style. Using the techniques listed below will keep readers focused on your message and help them interpret what you are saying more easily.

So how do we make our writing more concise? Here are a few basic steps you can follow.

1. Mass-delete Whatever Doesn’t Belong

The first practical step towards trimming your document is a large-scale purge of whatever doesn’t contribute to the purpose you set out to achieve. Such a purge is important because you don’t want to waste time proof-editing anything that you’re just going to delete anyway. However, this action is probably the most difficult one to take because it involves deleting large swaths of writing that may have taken some time and effort to compose.

A good rule is that if the content could potentially sidetrack readers, whose understanding of the topic would be unaffected (at best) or (at worst) overwhelmed by it’s inclusion, those sentences, paragraphs, and even whole sections simply must go. Highlight, delete, and don’t look back.

2. Delete Long Lead-ins

The next-biggest savings in writing space come from deleting lead-ins. Lead-ins are the groups of words that you wrote to gear up towards your main point. In ordinary speech, we use lead-ins as something like throat-clearing exercises. In writing, however, these are useless at best because they state the obvious. At worst, lead-ins immediately upset the reader by signaling that the rest of the message will contain some time-wasting text.

Take the following the examples:

  • I’m Jerry Mulligan and I’m writing this email to ask you to please consider my application for a co-op position at your firm.
  • You may be interested to know that you can now find the updated form in the company shared drive.
  • To conclude this memo, we recommend a cautious approach to using emojis when texting clients, and only after they’ve done so first themselves.

They’re all a bit long-winded, aren’t they? Can you identify the lead-ins?

If not, here are the same examples with the lead-ins highlighted.

  • Im Jerry Mulligan and I’m writing this email to ask you to please consider my application for a co-op position at your firm.
  • You may be interested to know that you can now find the updated form in the company shared drive.
  • To conclude this memo, we recommend a cautious approach to using emojis when texting clients, and only after they’ve done so first themselves.

These lead-ins are unnecessary.

In the first example, the recipient sees the name of the sender before even opening their email. It’s therefore redundant for the sender to introduce themselves by name and say that they wrote this email. Likewise, in the third example, the reader can see that this is the conclusion if it’s the last paragraph, especially if it comes below the heading “Conclusion.”

In each case, the sentence really begins after these lead-in expressions, and the reader misses nothing in their absence. Here’s how they look with their lead-ins removed.

  • Please consider my application for a co-op position at your firm.
  • You can now find the updated form in the company shared drive.
  • We recommend a cautious approach to using emojis when texting clients, and only after they’ve done so first themselves.

All three examples are improved by having their lead-in removed. If your writing has similar long lead-ins, delete them.

3. Pare Down Unnecessarily Wordy Phrases

We habitually use long stock phrases in our writing and speech because they sound fancy. However, length does not grant respectability. These phrases look ridiculously cumbersome when seen next to their more concise equivalent words and phrases, as you can see in Table 1 below. Unless you have good reason to do otherwise, always replace the wordy phrases with concise ones in your writing.

Table 1: Replace Unnecessarily Wordy Phrases with Concise Equivalents

Replace These Wordy Phrases with These Concise Equivalents
due to the fact that

not later than July 7

at this present moment in time


by July 7


in any way, shape, or form in any way
pursuant to your request as requested
thanking you in advance thank you
in addition to the above also
in spite of the fact that even though / although
in view of the fact that because / since
are of the opinion that believe that / think that
afford an opportunity allow
despite the fact that though
during the time that while
on a weekly basis weekly
at a later date/time later
until such time as until
in the near future soon
fully cognizant of aware of
in the event that if
for the period of for
attached hereto attached
each and every all
in as much as because / since
more or less about
feel free to please

Again, the reader misses nothing if you use the words and phrases in the second column instead of those in the first. Also, concise writing is more accessible to readers who are learning English as an additional language.

4. Delete Redundant Words

Our writing and speech is also filled with redundant words in stock expressions. These prefabricated phrases aren’t so bad when spoken because talk is cheap. In writing, however, which should be considered expensive, they make the author look like an irresponsibly heavy spender. Be on the lookout for the expressions below so that you are in command of your language.

Simply delete the crossed-out words in red if they appear in combination with those in blue:

  • absolutely essential (you can’t get any more essential than essential)
  • future plans (are you going to make plans about the past? plans are always future)
  • small in size (the context will determine that you mean small in size, quantity, etc.)
  • refer back to (“back” doesn’t help the verb “refer” in anyway, so cut it)
  • in order to (only use “in order” if it helps distinguish an infinitive phrase, which begins with “to,” from the preposition “to” appearing close to it)
  • each and every or each and every (or just “all,” as we saw in the table above)
  • repeat again (is this déjà vu?)

5. Delete Filler Expressions and Words

If you audio-record your conversations and make a transcript of just the words themselves, you’ll find an abundance of filler words and expressions that you could remove without harming the meaning of your sentences. A few common ones that appear at the beginning of sentences are “There is,” “There are,” and “It is,” which must be followed by a clause starting with the pronoun “that” or “who.” Consider the following examples:

1.There are many who want to take your place. Many want to take your place.
2. There is nothing you can do about it. You can do nothing about it.
3. It is the software that keeps making the error. The software keeps erring.

In the first and third cases, you can simply delete “There are” and “It is,” as well as the relative pronouns “who” and “that” respectively, leaving the sentence perfectly fine without them. In the second case, deleting “There is” requires slightly reorganizing the word order, but otherwise requires no additional words to say the very same thing. In each case, you save two or three words that simply don’t need to be there.

Other common filler words include the articles “a,” “an,” and “the,” especially in combination with the preposition of. You can eliminate many instances of “of the” simply by deleting them and flipping the order of the nouns on either side of them.

technology of the future future technology

Obviously, you can’t do this in all cases (e.g., changing “first of the month” to “month first” makes no sense). When proofreading, however, just be on the lookout for instances where you can.

The definite article the preceding plural nouns is also an easy target. Try deleting the article to see if the sentence still makes sense without it.

The shareholders unanimously supported the initiative. Shareholders unanimously supported the initiative.

Though the above excess words seem insignificant on their own, they bulk up the total word count unnecessarily when used in combination throughout a large document.

Basically, you can’t really do much to fully eliminate bad ideas because they’re quite common. You can’t do much to eliminate bad ideas because they’re so common.

6. Favor Short, Plain Words and Revise Jargon or Bureaucratic Expressions

If you pretend that every letter in each word you write costs money from your own pocket, you would do what readers prefer: use shorter words. The beauty of plain words is that they are more understandable and draw less attention to themselves than big, fancy words while still getting the point across. This is especially true when you are writing reports, which are often filled with unnecessary jargon. Choosing shorter words is easy because they are often the first that come to mind, so writing in plain language saves you time.

Obviously, you would use jargon for precision when appropriate for your audience’s needs and your own. You would use the word “photosynthesis,” for instance, if (1) you needed to refer to the process by which plants convert solar energy into sugars, and (2) you know your audience knows what the word means. In this case, using the jargon saves word space because it’s the most precise term for a process that otherwise needs several words. Using jargon merely to extend the number of words, however, is a desperate-looking move that your instructors and professional audiences will see through as waste of time due to a lack of quality ideas.

For business writing, simplifying language is more effective.  Table 2 shows examples of commonly used, complicated, or bureaucratic expressions and their simpler alternative.

Table 2: Plain and Simple Language

Complicated or Bureaucratic Expression Simpler Alternative
in lieu of



instead of


ask for

apparent clear
as per your request as you requested
commence begin, start
consolidate combine
ascertain find out
demonstrate show
disseminate distribute, send
endeavour try
erroneous wrong
expedite speed up
facilitate help
implement carry out
inception start
leverage use
optimize perfect
terminate end
proximity near
finalize about
subsequent complete
utilize use

Source: Brockway (2015)

The longer words in the above table tend to come from the Greek and Latin side of the English language whereas the shorter words come from the Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) side. When toddlers begin speaking English, they use Anglo-Saxon-derived words because they’re easier to master, and therefore recognize them as plain, simple words throughout their adult lives.

Exercise #1: Identify the Filler

Read the sample email below. Click on words or phrases that are filler or redundant and could easily be removed without losing the sentences meaning. For example, if a sentence reads:

Due to the fact that this project is absolutely essential, we must fix the problem immediately

You would click on the words “Due to the fact that” and “absolutely.”

Exercise #2: Fix the Filler

Now that you have identified the filler words and phrases in the sentence. How could you simplify the language? Below is the same email. Try to write your own, simplified version. Then compare it to the possible version below.

Dear Hiring Committee,

I am Cassandra Thompson and I am writing this letter to ask you to please consider my application for any future openings at your company in the near future. Your company’s community first model aligns with my own future plans to work in community development after I graduate from college. Personally, I believe community engagement is absolutely essential in order for a business to succeed. This believe is due to the work I did as an intern for Senator Caufield’s local office. I was in charge of the running the front desk during the time that I worked there. I was often the first person constituents met, so I have a lot of experience conversing with new people. I also have experience disseminating information to news outlets, consolidating constituent questions, and demonstrating a professional demeanor. I hope that you will consider my application, as I know I can improve the quality of your company’s interactions with the community.


Cassandra Thompson 


Key Takeaways

  • In professional communication, clear and concise writing is key. Always strive to remove unnecessary wording and trim back when possible to ensure your ideas are clearly communicated.
  • A few words here and there may not seem like a big difference, but over the course of entire, multi-page report, it could make a huge difference in how well your message is understood by your reader.

Now that you are finished with this chapter, you can either click on one of the other sentence-level issues and learn about them, or continue on to the next required chapter.

Go To Another Topic

Sentence Fragments | Run-On Sentences | Verb Tense | Punctuation


Brockway, L. (2015, November 3). 24 complex words—and their simpler alternatives. PR Daily.


This chapter is adapted from Business Communications for Fashion (on by Anna Cappuccitti. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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Effective Professional Communication: A Rhetorical Approach Copyright © 2021 by Rebekah Bennetch; Corey Owen; and Zachary Keesey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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