A photograph of a pair of scissors.

Source: Schere Gr 99.jpg, Andrzej 22, Wikimedia Commons

I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.

—Truman Capote

A photograph of two female high school basketball players on the court during a game

Source: 2011-2012 Vista High School Lady Panthers Basketball, irunandshoot, Flickr

In previous sections, you practiced revision strategies for adding to or replacing material in a draft. Another method for polishing style and tone is removing text. What should you take out of an essay you’ve drafted? You might begin with three kinds of wordiness that add nothing to your audience’s understanding.

  1. Unnecessary repetitions of words with similar meanings (synonyms)

  2. Wordy: The players were happy and joyful when they finished the season undefeated.

    Happy and joyful are synonyms. You can remove one of these words to make the sentence more concise. Which word better expresses how the players felt given that “they finished the season undefeated”? Joyful suggests a more intense emotion than happy and would likely be the better choice.

    Concise: The players were joyful when they finished the season undefeated.

  3. Overuse of “it” and “there”

  4. Wordy: It was thrilling to win the tournament.

    The writer of this sentence probably wanted the audience to understand how it felt to win the tournament. The writer could have emphasized this information by eliminating it was and making winning the subject of the sentence.

    A photograph of a monument at the Gettysburg National Park. It shows a Civil War era soldier with his rifle raised.

    Source: 11TH PVI, RFM57, Wikimedia

    Concise: Winning the tournament was thrilling.

  5. Overuse of first person

  6. Wordy: I think U.S. history is intriguing.

    To say that a topic is intriguing is to make a personal judgment about it. Therefore, it is not necessary to include I think. When you are expressing an opinion that is clearly your own, you may usually eliminate I think or similar expressions.

    Concise: U.S. history is intriguing.

Using the examples above as models, make the sentences below more concise. Click on the superfluous words or phrases in each sentence below to mark them for removal.

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1. The players were weary and worn-out when the game ended.

2. The movie was scary and frightening.

3. I think the school day should be shortened by one hour.

4. There are some students who have summer jobs.

5. In my opinion, The Hunger Games trilogy is a better read than the Twilight series.

6. It was exciting to ride the roller coaster.


take notes icon Bonus: In your notes, rewrite sentence 6. Check your understanding when you’re finished to see if you are correct.

Check Your Understanding
Sample Response:

Riding the roller coaster was exciting.

A photograph of writing resource books; a style manual, a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a book on modern English usage.

Source: writers reference books, Terry Freedman, Flickr

Next, you should evaluate your draft for “wordy” sentence constructions. Your goal is to reduce phrases that are not essential to your audience’s understanding. Diana Hacker, author of A Pocket Style Manual, describes such phrases as “inflated.” Of course, removing words or phrases often requires substituting them with something else. Hacker suggests replacing them with single words or briefer phrases.

In this last exercise, replace the “inflated” phrases with the more concise ones that Hacker suggests for decreasing wordiness. Click on the words in the left column below and drag each one next to the phrase it could replace.

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Memorizing these replacements will help you to evaluate your drafts for wordiness and use more concise phrases.

Knowing how to be more specific and revise for style, tone, and wordiness will put you on course to becoming a revision expert. You’ll be like the executive chef who practices different techniques over and over to make things look easy on a cooking show. Like the chef, you need to practice; you need to revise. Even professional writers whose works appear on bestseller lists revise a lot.

When it’s time to revise, remember these suggestions for polishing the tone and style of your writing:

  1. Read your draft again—aloud would be best.
  2. Ask someone else—preferably more than one person—to read your draft and comment on it.
  3. Add, substitute, and subtract text as needed.