Photo: K. Ananthan
Cut out the fluff: You can improve your writing by avoiding superfluous words.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Leonardo da Vinci
Those gifted with a rich vocabulary may be tempted to use long or even rare words while writing, perhaps to flaunt their superiority or for impressing the readers. They forget that an unusual or strange word may distract the reader, taking him away from the information they intend to convey. This will beat the purpose of effective communication.
Verbosity and bombast would usually entertain only the writer, unless you were writing a literary piece targeting a special type of readers. Wordiness has no place in most situations including business communication.
Wherever your objective is easy communication of ideas, the best option is to give up a grandiose style and express them in simple language – short words, short sentences. Concise prose is easily read. For example, a two-syllable word may be preferred to a three-syllable one. A common familiar word may be used instead of a complex technical term, if possible. A few familiar words may be preferred to a shorter but tough technical expression. However, to avoid monotony in long reports, you may have the luxury of an occasional change using an ornamental expression.
It may not be possible to manage with fewer words on all occasions; but we can try to be simple wherever we can. There may be special occasions when you may go for some redundant words, as in ‘each and every’ for the sake of emphasis; they are, however, exceptions.
Look at the sentence, “At this point of time I should like to assert in no uncertain terms that the managers should ensure that the assigned work should necessarily be completed within the predetermined time frame.” This could easily be replaced by “I would ask the managers to finish the work on time.” Words that do not add to clarity have been removed, without damaging the message.
If possible, avoid nouns formed from verbs. “The Corporation requires users to make their individual payments” reads easier than “The requirement of the Corporation is that users should make their individual payments.”
Elimination of ‘that’ is possible in many cases. “She said that he was sympathetic” and “She said he was sympathetic” mean the same. Often, padding such as “the fact that”, “what precisely I endeavour to convey is that”, and “I wish to tell you that” can be eliminated.
Keep it active
Active voice may be preferred to the passive as far as possible.
“The managers should finish the work” is better than “The work should be finished by the managers.”
Do not use abbreviations that are not well known. MA or YMCA is fine, since everyone who reads English knows them. Expand any rare abbreviation when it occurs the first time in a passage. Do not imagine that the reader would search and find out what you mean by such abbreviations. ‘NPT proved to be the stumbling block in the discussion’ may be rewritten as ‘Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty proved to be the stumbling block in the discussion.’
Here are a few examples of making do with shorter expressions.
Adequate number of – enough;
at a later date – later;
at an earlier date – previously;
at this point of time – now;
by means of – by;
during such time – while;
excessive number of – too many;
for the purpose of – for;
for the reason that – because;
have no alternative but – must;
in addition to – besides/also;
in order to – to;
in respect of – about;
in the event that – if;
in the modern period of time – currently / now;
in view of the fact – since, because;
it is interesting to note that – OMIT;
it is probable that – probably;
it will be seen from a consideration of the data in Table 5 that – Table 5 shows;
notwithstanding the fact that – although;
on a regular basis – regularly;
owing to the fact that – since;
subsequent to – after;
under the provisions of – under;
until such time – till / until;
with a view to – to;
with regard to – about;
within a comparatively short period of time – soon.
Avoid redundant words. In the following examples, what is given in the right is adequate.
Actual experience – experience;
advance planning – planning;
advance reservation – reservation;
advance warning – warning;
armed gunman – gunman;
at 12 midnight – at midnight;
awkward predicament – predicament;
baby boy was born – boy was born;
basic fundamentals – fundamentals;
both of them – both;
close proximity – proximity;
commute back and forth – commute;
consensus of opinion – consensus;
difficult dilemma – dilemma;
each and every – each;
elongated in shape – elongated;
estimated roughly at – estimated at;
exact duplicate – duplicate;
fewer in number – fewer;
free gift – gift;
general public – public;
green in colour – green;
natural instinct – instinct;
null and void – void;
pair of twins- twins;
past experience – experience;
poisonous venom – venom;
pre-recorded – recorded;
reason is because – reason is.
(The Hindu, 26:11:2007)