Write Better!
rates & ordering THEY NEVER WILL BE MISSED
by Brooke Smith

In Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado, the Lord High Executioner presents a list of people society can do without. Whether we agree with his sentiments, in writing many words can be excised without affecting clarity. By trimming unnecessary language, the author creates clean prose and improves flow.

Not every word can be cut every time, especially prepositions and connectors that may be disposable in some constructions but critical to others. However, pay special attention whenever you see one of the following phrases popping up. Try eliminating them as you read through each sentence—is it still grammatical? Does it still have the same meaning? If so, take out the red pen or hit the delete key.

The Hit List
a ___ one
The program will be a successful one ==> The program will be successful.

Our product will be shipped on time and with no decrease in quality ==> Our product will be shipped on time with no decrease in quality.

The Texas courts have adopted this rule ==> The Texas courts adopted this rule.

[This means “in addition to what has already been said.” Most readers assume that if one sentence follows another, it is “in addition” to the previous one]:

The town hated the mayor. Moreover they wanted to impeach him.

The town hated the major. They wanted to impeach him.

We considered the question of whether to pay the fine. ==>
We considered the question whether to pay the fine.

We lean more towards conversation rather than confrontation ==>
We lean more towards conversation than confrontation.

[This may be the most overused word in the English language.]
I think that he is a good person ==> I think he is a good person.
We think that playing golf would be fun. ==> We think playing golf would be fun.

However, that remains necessary when used as a definite article referring to a particular person or thing:

I know that boy is a good person.
We think playing golf on that course would be fun.

that is
We found research that is relevant to the subject ==> We found research relevant to the subject.

that are
Those are the funds that are contributed to charity ==> Those are the funds contributed to charity.

This helps us to do our work ==> This helps us do our work.

what was
The loss was more than what was expected ==> The loss was more than expected.

Other words can’t be removed on their own, but can be dropped if slight changes are made to surrounding language. Look for these and similar constructions:

came to conclude ==> concluded
in a professional way ==> professionally
in preparation of the budget ==> budget preparation
serves to provide ==> provides
the concept that governs ==> the concept governing
the issue of ==> why

These opening phrases usually provide little information and bog down sentence beginnings:

In this respect
It goes without saying
It must be stated
It should be noted
It should be said
Needless to say
Stating it more clearly

Also watch sentences that begin with Generally, In general, Hence, Therefore, and Thus (or Thusly.) While sometimes these words are needed to create a context for what follows or connect thoughts, they often appear without having any particular purpose.

Especially watch out for the following in SOP or personal essays. (After all, if you’re the one writing it, the reader may reasonably assume everything in it stems from you.)

I believe
I feel
I know
I think
In my experience
In my opinion
This is my individual decision ==> This is my decision.
This is my personal decision ==> This is my decision.

Is this list complete? Absolutely not – and there are almost endless variations on the phrases that do appear. A good writer will go carefully over the draft text, questioning each word. But by knowing some of the more common culprits, you should begin to pare your prose down. Just remember: every word you take away allows what remains to shine more brightly.