Back to Basics

Image by Katie Phillips from Pixabay

When I looked back over my last few posts, I realized that we’ve been working on some complicated topics: writing a strong start to a sentence, organizing ideas in a sentence or group of sentences, and using the passive voice. I think it’s time to take a little break and get back to basics, with some quick and easy ways to trim down your writing and make it more effective.  

Lists of common words and phrases to cut are all over the Internet, but instead of just listing them, I think it’s more useful to categorize them according to the kinds of changes that improve them. So let’s start with some easy ones. The first two categories include words or phrases which you can almost always remove from your writing without altering the meaning:  

Fillers that add nothing: accordingly; actually; as necessary; all things being equal; for all intents and purposes; for the most part; in fact; in terms of; of course.  

Words that are often redundant: absolutely; completely; entirely; possibly. At first you might take issue with calling these words “redundant,” but think about it: do you really need to say completely full? Or entirely certain? The words full and certain already contain the idea of completeness.

Cutting words from just those two categories will save you a lot right off the bat. But let’s go on to the next step: phrases that can be trimmed down. Sometimes you can simply cut some words:

Instead of…

Change to…

at the rate of


connected together


end result


for a period of


if at all possible

if possible

in an area where


in an effort to


it is often the case that


with the aid of



But more often you have to reword a bit:

Instead of…

Change to…

at the same time as


due to the fact that 


if that were the case

if so

in a timely manner

on time, promptly

in close proximity to

close to, near

in the near future


in the absence of


it is essential

must, need to

it is important to note that


of considerable magnitude


Especially in more formal writing we often tend to use relatively weak verbs with adjectives or abstract nouns when a strong verb would be much more effective—such as:  

Instead of…

Change to…

bring to a conclusion

conclude, end

exhibit a tendency


(to be) in possession of


involves the use of

uses, employs

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Now it’s your turn to take a shot at this! Here are some phrases to be trimmed down or reworded—see what you can come up with:

Instead of…

Change to…

for this reason


in regard/reference to


in the course of


it can be seen that


is capable of


is responsible for


had a discussion/conversation about


make a decision


So be on the lookout for these phrases and others like them in your writing. We all have our own pet phrases that we overuse—I struggled for the longest time with getting rid of actually. If you know or suspect that you’re too fond of a particular word or phrase, a good practice is to run a “find”—you might be surprised how often the offender comes up! And here’s another tip: I noticed when looking at an extensive list put together by another editor that many of these overly wordy phrases start with in… or it is…

Oh, and the answers to the quiz? My suggestions are below. If you come up with others, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Don't peek below this line until you're ready to see the answers!

Suggested answers to the quiz:

Instead of…

Change to…

for this reason


in regard/reference to

about, concerning, on

in the course of

during, while

it can be seen that


is capable of


is responsible for


had a discussion/conversation about


make a decision