Wordiness

 

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

absolutely essential
according to
all of
are connected with
as a result
as long as
at all times
at this time
close proximity
consensus of opinion
despite the fact that
due to the fact that
few in number
first and foremost
for the production of
for the purpose of
for the reason that
has (or needs) to
if…, then …
in a given
in accordance with
in an attempt (effort) to
in connection with
in order for
in order to
in point of fact
in reference to
in (or with) regard to
in the event that
in view of the fact that
inasmuch as
is allowed (able or entitled) to
is located in
is required to
it should be noted that
look into
making a determination (decision)
more often than not

needs (or has) to
not allow
not different
not include
on the basis of
owing to the fact that
past history
payment made to
prior to
the limitation on
small in size (number)
subsequent to
the use of
that limits (or other verb after “that”)
the creation of (or other “-tion” noun)
there are (or there is)
whether or not
will be able to
will depend upon
will have to
with reference to
with regard to
with the exception of

Better Phrases or Words

essential
per
all (or each)
relate to
thus
if
always
now (or currently)
proximity
consensus
even though
since (or because)
few
first
to produce
for (or to)
since (or because)
must (or should)
if…, …
each
according to
to
about
for
to
in fact
about
regarding (or about)
if
since (or because)
since (or because)
can
is in
must (or should)
OMIT
consider
determining (deciding)
often
must (or should)
must (or should)
prevent (or preclude)
similar
omit
based on (or since)
since (or because)
history
paid to
before
limits
small
after using
limiting (i.e., the verb’s ing form)
creating (i.e., the nouns ing form)
CONSIDER OMITTING
whether
can
depends on
must (or should)
regarding
regarding (or about)
except


Defined broadly, wordiness also might include using words with multiple syllables where simpler words would suffice. Some common examples are listed below.

Words with Multiple Syllables

although
altogether
anticipate
because
commence
consequently
into
oftentimes
therefore
upon
utilize
whenever
within

Simpler Words

though
together
expect
since
begin (or start)
thus
in
often
thus
on
use
when
in


Tax-related terms and phrases often can be expressed more concisely or abbreviated. Citations to tax authority, in particular, should be shortened to avoid unnecessary clutter, especially in technical research memos. For example, Internal Revenue Code section 101 can be clearly stated as §101. In tax practice, a statutory reference is assumed to be to Title 26 (i.e., the Internal Revenue Code) unless otherwise noted. Thus, explicit references to the Code are usually unnecessary. (Caveat: Tax-related wordiness might be appropriate in some forms of written communications, such as client letters). Common examples of tax-related wordiness and recommended substitutions are listed below.

Tax-Related Wordiness

Code section 61

Commissioner of Internal Revenue
credit against tax liability
deduction from gross income


exempt from gross income (or taxation)
in Smith v. U.S.,the court held
in the case of Smith v. U.S.
included in gross income
income which is subject to taxation
Internal Revenue Code
Internal Revenue Service
Regulation §1.101-1
Revenue Ruling 83-24
take (or claim) a credit for
take (or claim) a deduction for
tax deductible
tax exempt
the Smith v. U.S. decision
Treasury Regulation §1.101-1
United States

Better Expressions

§61 (or Sec. 61 at beginning of
      sentence)
Comm. or CIR
credit
deduction (unless distinguishing between
      for and from AGI deductions)
exempt
Smith v. U.S. held
in Smith v. U.S.
gross income
gross income
Code (or omit if part of specific cite)
IRS
Reg. §1.101-1
Rev. Rul. 83-24
credit
deduct
deductible
exempt
Smith v. U.S.
Reg. §1.101-1
U.S.

Consider the following example containing wordiness.

Wordy Example:

In 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.

Edited Example: In the case of Mais (TC, 1968) allowed the taxpayer was able to to exclude from gross income embezzled funds that were repaid during the same year the funds were embezzled but the taxpayer was not allowed to exclude embezzled funds to be those repaid in a subsequent later year.

Better Wording: Mais (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).

Prepositional Strings: Ringo can deduct the $23,000 for the cost of the pool at the new home as a medical expense.

Ringo can deduct the $23,000 for the cost of the new home’s pool at the new home as a medical expense.

Edited Version:
Better Sentence: Ringo 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.

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