Reduce Wordiness. Be Concise.

WRITTEN October 18, 2011 Author: Rich Atkins

An overload can slow things down.  This principle holds true with words.

When communication is too wordy, readers “gray out.” It is time to reduce wordiness.

From now on, imagine that each word you use will cost you 75¢!  If money was involved (really, it is), we all would work on being clear and concise, without sounding abrupt or offensive.

Avoid using wordy constructions; instead, choose a word or shorter phrase that means the equivalent, such as:

  • In regard to = About
  • At a later date = Later
  • At the present time = Now
  • As soon as = When
  • Due to the fact that = Because
  • For the purpose of = For

How To Reduce Wordiness

  • Delete unnecessary prepositions and meaningless phrases/expressions (“in terms of,” “in regard to” “it appears that,” “first of all,” “there are/is”).
  • Avoid passive voice, which hides the real subjects in a sentence (The email was sent by Loretta, or Loretta sent the email).
  • Avoid repetition (It’s Friday, and on Fridays, I always go out to lunch. It’s my Friday tradition.)
  • If there are multiple verbs, try to use only one (I do believe, or I believe).
  • Use the possessive to eliminate superfluous words (the report from the supervisor of the trading floor, or the trading floor supervisor’s report).
  • Shorten sentences – awkward (overly wordy) sentences make for difficult reading. Clear, short sentences are much easier to read.

The following phrases are unnecessary or awkward:

  • In this report…
  • In conclusion…

Wordy: The fact that the company had succeeded in…
Clear: The company’s success…

Here’s a great example of wordiness. It’s from the Justice Department’s guideline on expense reimbursement:

“In cases in which a claimant receives reimbursement under this provision for expenses that also will or may be reimbursed from another source, the claimant shall subrogate the United States to the claim for payment from the collateral source up to the amount for which the claimant was reimbursed under this provision.”

Huh? What did all that mean? If each word up there cost $1.00, that was a $52 paragraph!

Now, let’s try something cleaner, from the Center for Plain Language:

“If you already got payments from us and from another source for expenses, you must pay back what we paid you.”

That $21 paragraph above is much more readable, isn’t it?

Reduce wordiness. Have mercy on the audience. Ensure that your message is received!


This information is from the Effective Business Writing class. If you’re looking for ways to improve your communication skills, register for one of our public classes, or contact us to bring Improving Communications training to your place of business for onsite sessions.

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