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Tighten up your writing by removing redundant/unnecessary words

November 10, 2011

Another writing tip that I wrote for my team of authors…

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Getting rid of redundant or unnecessary words tightens up your writing, thus making it easier for your audience to read and understand your documents.

There is a strong ‘plain language’ movement across many industries and governments (the US enacted Plain Language legislation in 2010) that aims to use language that is clear, concise and correct in all documents, websites, etc. ‘Plain language’ doesn’t mean ‘dumbing down’ the content; rather, it aims to clearly and effectively communicate the message.

So, in the interests of promoting plain language, I’ve listed some sentences I’ve edited recently. On the left are the original sentences/phrases, in the middle are the changes I made, and on the right are my comments. I’ve removed words (represented by ‘…’) that weren’t necessary to make each point. In every example, the word count was reduced and the ‘fluff’ was removed.

Before After Comments
The purpose of the … system is to provide… The … system provides…
  • ‘is to provide’ can be replaced by ‘provides’
  • ‘The purpose of’ can be deleted without changing the meaning
This document has been prepared to outline the … Plan This document outlines the … Plan
  • ‘has been prepared to outline’ can be replaced by ‘outlines’ without changing the meaning
The … Coordinator has responsibility for… The … Coordinator is responsible for…
  • ‘is responsible for’ is more forceful than ‘has responsibility for’ and is easier to read and interpret
…reviews will be conducted on a monthly basis, the frequency is borne out of the reporting requirements. …reviews will be conducted monthly, in line with the reporting requirements.
  • ‘on a monthly basis’ can almost always be replaced by the simpler ‘monthly’
  • ‘the frequency is borne out of’ is hard to interpret and can be replaced by the easier to understand ‘in line with’
The … reporting provides a summative view of performance of the project team. … reporting summarises the project team’s performance.
  • ‘provides a summative view of’ is hard to interpret and can be replaced by the easier to understand ‘summarises’
  • ‘performance of the project team’ can be replaced by the possessive and easier to read ‘project teams’ performance’
The accountability for the maintenance of the information within the register and the administration lies with the … Coordinator. The … Coordinator is accountable for the maintenance and administration of the information within the register.
  • This sentence is clumsy as it separates various things that should go together (maintenance/administration; accountability/lies with)
  • Also, the role that’s accountable is not mentioned until the end
  • By putting the role up front, then stating what that role is responsible for, you get a sentence that’s much easier to read and understand
The [document] provides a summary from all relevant … studies… This [document] summarises all relevant … studies…
  • ‘provides a summary from’ can be replaced by the easier to understand ‘summarises’
Risks are evaluated based on the following: … Risks are evaluated based on: …
  • ‘the following’ can almost always be deleted from the introduction to a bulleted list – if the sentence and list items read just as well without it, delete ‘the following’
A dedicated jetty … is utilised for the loading of LNG… A dedicated jetty … is used for loading LNG…
  • ‘utilise’ (and its variations) can almost always be replaced by the simpler ‘use’
  • ‘the loading of LNG’ can be replaced by ‘loading LNG’ without changing the meaning
…in close proximity to… …close to…
…near…
(or even better, be specific about the distance – e.g. 50 m, 10 m, 300 m, 1 m)
  • ‘proximity’ is synonymous with ‘nearness’ so ‘close proximity’ is redundant. You could use ‘in proximity to’, but it is simpler to say ‘close to’ or ‘near’ – and easier for your readers to understand
  • All these terms are also very fuzzy and not specific – does ‘close proximity/close to/near’ mean 10 m or 500 m? Where possible, be specific as to the distance.
Thunderstorms during the summer months … Summer thunderstorms …
  • Summer is one of four seasons, therefore it covers three months, so ‘during the summer months’ is redundant and can be replaced by ‘summer’
The major systems … are summarised below: The major systems … are:
  • Like ‘the following’, ‘summarised below’ can often be deleted from the introduction to a bulleted list – if the sentence and list items read just as well without it, delete ‘summarised below’
An … injection system assists in the prevention of… An … injection system assists in preventing…
  • ‘the prevention of’ is wordy as are many ‘the … of’ constructions, and can be replaced by the ‘-ing’ version of the word; in this example, ‘preventing’
… is obtained downstream …, whereby it is sent to the … facility … is obtained downstream …, and then sent to the … facility
  • In this sentence, ‘whereby it is’ can be replaced by the simpler ‘and then’
The requirements for … are set forth in the tables below. Table 6-4 and Table 6-5 list the requirements for …
  • ‘are set forth’ can be replaced by ‘list’ (or its variations)
  • ‘below’ should be avoided where possible and replaced with the relevant table/figure/section numbers
  • Reword this sentence to make it easier to understand
…this licence will be further expanded… …this licence will be expanded…
  • ‘further expanded’ is tautological – ‘expanded’ is sufficient
Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is provided to supply critical instrumentation circuits and other control circuits that could impact safety or continuous operation of processes in the event of a momentary loss of power. If there is a momentary loss of power, the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) supplies critical instrumentation circuits and other control circuits that could impact safety or continuous operation of processes.
  • ‘in the event of’ can almost always be replaced by ‘if’
  • ‘is provided to supply’ can be replaced by ‘supplies’
  • Shift the condition (the ‘if’ statement) to the front of the sentence as the consequence/action doesn’t apply except under that condition
… have been designed to muster >50 personnel … … can cater for >50 people …
  • ‘personnel’ can often be replaced by ‘people’ (though not always)
  • ‘have been designed to’ can be replaced by ‘can’
  • As this sentence was about muster points, the use of a second ‘muster’ was redundant and was replaced with ‘cater for’
In the event that the … is blocked in… If the … is blocked in…
  • ‘in the event that’ can almost always be replaced by ‘if’
The materials of construction for the… The construction materials for the…
  • ‘materials of construction’ is awkward; ‘construction materials’ is easier to read and understand
All detectors are located such that they are readily accessible… All detectors are readily accessible…
  • ‘are located such that they’ was redundant in the context of this sentence and was deleted
… to reduce incident severity and risk of escalation in the event of breach of mechanical integrity. … to reduce incident severity and the risk of escalation if mechanical integrity is breached.
  • ‘in the event of’ can almost always be replaced by ‘if’
  • ‘in the event of breach of mechanical integrity’ was replaced with ‘if mechanical integrity is breached’
Unique, one-of-a-kind… Unique OR one-of-a-kind but NOT both
  • ‘unique, one-of-a-kind’ is tautological – ‘unique’ is sufficient
… in order to… … to …
  • ‘in order to’ can often be replaced by ‘to’ (though not always). If the meaning doesn’t change with ‘in order to’ replaced by ‘to’, then delete it.

See also:

[Links last checked November 2011]

6 comments

  1. Good post! Some of these look very familiar. Some of these exact phrasings I’ve marked up myself! We need to be diligent because they can slip so easily into our writing.

    I also wrote a brief post about redundancies with some two-word examples, if any of your readers might be interested: http://bit.ly/rq9ASI.


  2. […] ‘are provided .. to’ is redundant and can probably be deleted without affecting meaning (see https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/tighten-up-your-writing-by-removing-redundantunnecessary-w…) […]


  3. […] Tighten up your writing by removing redundant/unnecessary words (cybertext.wordpress.com) Share this with:FacebookTwitterStumbleUponDiggRedditLinkedInEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]


  4. […] Tighten up your writing by removing unnecessary words […]


  5. […] redundant and unnecessary words — e.g. I check every ‘in order to’ to see if it works just as well as ‘to’, and ‘the following’ to see if it can be deleted; there are many more of these… […]



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