In his book, Getting the Words Right, Theodore Cheney says, “Seventy-five percent of all revision is eliminating words already written; the remaining twenty-five percent is improving the words that remain.” That’s a lot of words.
What is Cheney talking about? We don’t set out to fill our writing with empty words, so what are these hollow words that need to be cut? Let’s take a look at some common offenders. Words easy to cut often involve redundancy:
free gift – What other kind of gift is there?
future outlook – You can’t have a past outlook.
my personal opinion – It’s your opinion. Of course, it’s personal.
actual experience – What is the alternative, an unreal experience?
Empty qualifiers also deserve the chopping block because they add little to the meaning of the sentence:
We use some phrases automatically because we’ve heard them so often, but there are shorter ways to say the same things:
Instead of based on the fact that, use because.
Instead of in the neighborhood of, use about.
Instead of in most cases, use usually.
Instead of for the purpose of, use for.
Instead of at this point in time, use now.
Go through a piece you’ve written and see if you can trim the fat and make your story lean and mean. Then tell us about your findings in the comments section below. Chop, chop!