Deleting clutter from your writing improves readability
Short sentences are easier to read than long, complex sentences. Readability tests prove this. As is usually the case with English, there are exceptions to this rule, and long sentences can work well. As Joseph M. Williams says in Style: Toward Clarity and Grace:
‘Every competent writer has to know how to write a concise sentence and how to prune a long one to readable length. But a competent writer must also know how to manage a long sentence gracefully, how to make it as clear and as vigorous as a series of short ones.’
This is illustrated by the following sentence written by Mark Twain.
‘At times he may indulge himself with a long one [sentence], but he will make sure there are no folds in it, no vaguenesses, no parenthetical interruptions of its view as a whole; when he has done with it, it won’t be a sea-serpent with half of its arches under the water; it will be a torch-light procession. (57 words)’
Delete unnecessary words and phrases
When you’re looking for words and phrases to delete or replace, watch out for:
- Unnecessary prepositions, such as to, by, up and in
open up (open)
total of 12 bottles (12 bottles)
- Meaningless phrases that are often clichés
at this point in time
at the end of the day
it is of the utmost importance
- Redundant words, which are often adverbs or adjectives
12 noon (noon)
assemble together (assemble)
completely destroyed (destroyed)
exact same (same)
Delete your own clutter
If you can’t immediately spot your own clutter, try underlining the words that are essential for the meaning. Then you’ll see how many unnecessary words you have used. Alternatively, put brackets around words you could delete and see how the sentence reads without them.
Another method is to think of working words and glue words. ‘Working words’ are essential for meaning. ‘Glue words’ are those that make the sentence stick together. While you need some glue words, most of us tend to use too many.
The working words in the following sentence are in bold.
A meeting was held by the management team for the purpose of discussing the document with relation to the settlement date. (21 words)
The sentence could be rewritten without using all the working words:
The management team met to discuss the settlement date. (9 words)
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