Wasting words means wasting time. Wordy documents take longer to read and are less effective. Readers often skim wordy documents because the writing is dull; this speed reading causes them to miss important information.
Wordy sentences generally have three causes: wordy verbs, wordy expressions, and wordy constructions. We’ll look at the first one in today’s entry.
Business writers should write as if they’re paying to use each word, but many of them write as if they’re getting paid by the letter! In their attempt to sound “businesslike,” they tend to use three words to express one action. For example, the previous sentence could have read, “They have a tendency to use three words to express one action.” But it doesn’t. Tend means “have a tendency to do something.” The sentence could also read simply, “They use three words to express one action.”
Find the action in a sentence and express it with the strongest verb. Here are some examples:
The expenses are in excess of the budget we were given.
The expenses exceed our budget.
John Smith was the recipient of the Carter Employee of the Year award.
John Smith received the Carter Employee of the Year award.
In some sentences, the real verb is disguised as a noun near a bland verb. In particular, business writers go out of their way to add ion words to a sentence. Look at this example:
Our company focuses on the provision of financial services for small businesses.
The word provision sounds wonderful. A large, thriving company engages in provision. Important executives with MBAs can execute provision. But a shorter sentence is stronger and clearer:
Our company provides financial services for small businesses.
Find the action and just do it! Some other examples:
Our goal is the creation of a new Standards Division.
Our goal is creating a new Standards Division.
When implemented, this new plan will produce a reduction in employee thefts.
When implemented, this new plan will reduce employee thefts.
Our department submitted an application for funds from the budget surplus.
Our department applied for funds from the budget surplus.
Research and Development is currently in the process of inventing a new formula.
Research and Development is inventing a new formula.
The right place in time
You can simplify many sentences by making sure the verb is in the most concise tense. Often writers add an extra is or was when a simpler tense fits the bill:
Our supplies officer is asking that you use envelopes sparingly.
Our supplies officer asks that you use envelopes sparingly.
The new owner will be meeting with each of you.
The new owner will meet with each of you.
The company is planning to expand into Texas.
The company plans to expand into Texas.
She is currently serving as vice president.
She serves as vice president. (Or currently she is vice president).
Passive verbs also make sentences wordy and dull. Find the action in the sentence and then find the person or thing doing the action. Make the sequence of actor/action direct:
Passive: The project budget was approved by the Accounting Department.
Active: The Accounting Department approved the project budget.
Passive: Before the meeting, a complaint was lodged with the chairman regarding the status of preferred stocks.
Active: Before the meeting, stockholders complained to the chairman about the status of preferred stocks.
Passive sentences are fine when the person doing the action is insignificant:
The workstations were installed years before the Internet was an integral part of daily corporate life.
Next time: Wordy expressions