Wordiness is a problem that many people struggle with in their writing. If this applies to you, ask yourself, “Is this really necessary? Am I just phrasing my sentence this way because I think it makes me sound intelligent?” If you are a writing tutor who is working with a wordy paper, try to help the writer to think about these questions as well. Another pair of eyes can often spot wordiness more quickly than the writer can.
There are certain grammatical constructions that lend themselves to wordiness. For example, writing in passive voice or excessively using “to be” verbs can increase the length of the sentence, but decrease the linguistic impact. As Strunk and White write in The Elements of Style:
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
It can be difficult to follow this advice because sometimes it seems like teachers formulate assignments that encourage students to add “fluff” on order to meet a word or page count. It’s important to remember that it is the content of the paper that really matters. If your paper isn’t meeting the word count, you need to take a close look at it. Are you explaining your points clearly? Could you elaborate on any of your content to increase the reader’s understanding? Do you need more information in order to complete the assignment adequately? Asking these questions will help you to write a paper that is meaty, not wordy.