Wordiness is taking more words than necessary to make your point. It may take the form of redundant expressions or phrases. To be sure, longer expressions may be appropriate at times as a matter of style or to avoid ambiguity. But some business writers clutter their sentences and paragraphs with words, phrases, and expressions that needlessly distract the reader.
Consistent elimination of wordiness results in a stronger, more concise
writing style that is easier to read and provides fewer opportunities
for misinterpretation. In contrast, a wordy style makes reading laborious
and, thus, encourages skimming and leads to inattention. Do you wish the
reader to carefully consider your message? If so, reduce wordiness to
the extent possible. The examples below provide guidance for avoiding
general forms of wordiness.
General Examples of Wordiness
Words with Multiple Syllablesalthough
begin (or start)
Code section 61
Better Expressions§61 (or Sec. 61 at beginning of
Comm. or CIR
deduction (unless distinguishing between
for and from AGI deductions)
Smith v. U.S. held
in Smith v. U.S.
Code (or omit if part of specific cite)
Rev. Rul. 83-24
Smith v. U.S.
Consider the following example containing wordiness.
the case of Mais (TC, 1968), the taxpayer was able to exclude from
gross income embezzled funds that were repaid during the year the funds
were embezzled but the taxpayer was not allowed to exclude embezzled funds
to be repaid in a subsequent year.
(TC, 1968) allowed the taxpayer to exclude embezzled funds repaid during
the same year but not those repaid in a later year.
The original sentence contained 45 words. The corrected sentence contains only 23 words, a 49% decrease. The corrected sentence contains just as much information as the original; shortening the sentence creates no ambiguity. However, the shorter sentence is easier to read and understand.
Another form of wordiness is the unnecessary use of legalese. Using legalese can make your writing appear archaic, too formal, or stilted. Examples of legalese include the following words: aforementioned, aforesaid, hereto, heretofore, herewith, said (when used as an adjective), thereby, therein, thereof, thereto, therefor (as opposed to the conjunction, therefore), therewith, whereby, wherefore, wherein, and whereto. Often, legalese can be omitted without changing a sentence’s meaning or creating ambiguity. In other cases, simpler words can be substituted.
Using several consecutive prepositional phrases (i.e., prepositional
strings) is wordy and creates poor sentence rhythm. More importantly,
prepositional strings make sentences difficult to follow since
prepositional phrases are modifying the objects of preceding prepositional
phrases. Readers may need to reread the sentence to comprehend its meaning. Generally, use no more than three consecutive prepositional
phrases; however, even three may be too many
in some cases. One method to improve a sentence plagued with prepositional
strings is to convert one of the prepositional phrases’ objects to an
adjective. Consider the following example, which contains four consecutive
prepositional phrases (prepositions are italicized in the initial sentence).
can deduct the $23,000 for the cost of the pool at
the new home as a medical expense.
can deduct the $23,000
can deduct the $23,000 cost of the new home’s pool as a medical expense.
The sentence reads better after new home is converted into a modifier for pool.
The word search capabilities in your word processing software can help you find wordiness in your writing (e.g., searching for the phrase in order). Consistent use of this technique can greatly reduce wordiness and, eventually, can help you recognize wordiness without using your word processor’s search function. In other words, conscientious and consistent practice can lead to a stronger writing style and reduce the need for later searching and editing.
After reviewing this lesson, please take the wordiness self-tests. These tests should help you recognize and correct instances of wordiness in your own writing.
After reviewing all lessons, please take the comprehensive self tests. Also, before leaving this website, please remember to complete the short Exit Questionnaire. Your responses to the questionnaire will help us to evaluate this site’s usefulness and make improvements. Thanks.