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Editing for Clarity: 4 Questions

As you edit your writing, ask yourself the following four questions:

    1. Can I say it smaller words?

    2. Can I say it in fewer words?

    3. Can I say it in better words?

    4. Can I say it with words that make the action clearer?


Can I say it SMALLER words?

Editing rule: Don't "smother" the action of the sentence by turning verbs into nouns.

Smothered: Next, I provided an explanation of our services.

Better: Next, I explained our services.

(Note how this version highlights the important action (explaining) and gets rid of little add-nothing words like "an" and "of.")

Tip: Check for words ending in "-tion"or "-ization" or "-ment." These endings frequently signal smothering.

Can I say it in FEWER words?

Editing rule: Avoid useless "start-up" phrases, redundant words, and wordy phrases.

> Useless start-ups: The point that I want to emphasize is that all reports must completed by August 1.

Better: Complete all reports by August 1.

> Redundant words: She estimated roughly that our advance planning would be completed by 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon.

Better: She estimated that our planning would be completed by 3:00 p.m.

> Wordy Phrases: At my place of employment, census reports are written on a monthly basis at the present time.

Better: At my job, census reports are now written monthly.

Tip: Keep your consciousness raised by reviewing this LIST OF COMMON REDUNDANCIES AND WORDY PHRASES frequently.

Can I say it in BETTER words?

Editing rule: Avoid legalese (unless you're a lawyer), bureaucratese (even if you're a bureaucrat) and jargon.

> Legalese

Legalese is the term given to all those "herewiths" and "thereofs" and the kind of detail that has a purpose in a legal document but that simply takes up room in normal academic writing. If you're not a lawyer, don't try to write like one.

Example, with legalese crossed out: As a counselor, my duties included but were not limited to running groups, holding individual case conferences, and maintaining all records thereof.

> Bureaucratese

Bureaucratese had been described as using big words to express little ideas. It's not that big words are bad in themselves; it's just important to match the language to the situation.

Example of bureaucratese: Upon receipt of this memo dated January 26, 2008, please be herewith informed that our new parking policy will be effectuated immediately.

Better: Our new parking policy takes effect on January 26, 2008.

> Jargon

Jargon is the term for the technical and short-cut words, the special vocabulary, that members of various fields use when speaking to one another. Since most academic writing is written to a general reader, it is important to avoid jargon in your formal writing. If using a jargon term is unavoidable, be sure to explain it to the reader as necessary.

Jargon: Two of our residents had dirty urines yesterday and are on probation.

General academic style: Two of our residents failed their urinalysis test yesterday and are on probation.

Can I make the action CLEARER?

Editing rule: Prefer active rather than passive sentences. Use the passive voice only when the subject is unknown, unimportant or better left unidentified.

Unnecessary passive: It is required by the therapeutic process that a monthly clinical review be written by each counselor.

Better in active voice: The therapeutic process requires each counselor to write a monthly clinical review.


Need more practice? Here are two tried but true reference works on clear, concise writing: