Declutter Your Writing

Nothing takes readers out of the moment like one poorly worded sentence. ~ The Writer’s Circle

If we can plop a reader into a situation and pull him to the edge of his seat, we’ve accomplished something. But slip up one time — whether it’s a patch of choppy prose or a typo — and we break the streak. His concentration is interrupted. He’s lost the mood.

Taking a reader to that engaged, engrossed place is a grand thing. But it is also grievously easy to lose. How can we get our readers to that spot and keep them there?

Clean It Up

A huge key is cleaning up our language. Scour your writing for these three categories of words:

1. “Very,” “some,” & “kind of”

Although it is a very common word, “very” causes writing to seem kind of bland, even if you’re making some good points.

See what I mean? You can take “very,” “kind of,” and “some” — lazy words — out of this sentence and it won’t change the meaning:

Although it is a common word, “very” causes writing to seem bland even if you’re making good points.

In fact, the sentence will be stronger, which leads to the next category.

2. Unnecessary Adjectives

This is the most difficult writing tip for me to stick to. (Are you surprised? ;)) I love finding unusual words. But instead of trying to use as many unique terms as possible to spice up your writing or make a point, challenge yourself to say a lot with a little. It’s a fun exercise and will help you sharpen your craft. Plus, people are more likely to remember what you say when you say less.

She quickly dashed to the rusty, brown, metal trashcan and scooped the trembling, timid, tentative hamster into her warm, soft hands.

Blech. Way too much detail. Try this:

She dashed to the rusty trashcan and scooped up the trembling hamster.

If you use the word rusty, you don’t need brown or metal — rust is brown and only metal things rust, so it’s implied, all in one word instead of three. Additionally, if a hamster is trembling, we already know it’s timid and tentative, not tenacious or terrifying. And describing her warm, soft hands is just unnecessary and kind of cheesy.

3. Profanity

Swearing is unprofessional. I frequently find it in online articles, whether they’re on business tactics, health tips, or writing advice. They may have solid information, but when you come across a profane term, it not only doesn’t jive with the subject matter, but it also sounds dumb. When a writer resorts to using profanity, it looks like he couldn’t think of a more appropriate or fitting term. Don’t scoop words from the gutter; pluck them from bookshelves and dictionaries, libraries and research papers, esteemed authors and thesauruses. Be creative. Be imaginative. Be curious. Don’t rely on expletives.

As with any rule, each of these has exceptions. “Very” is occasionally appropriate, especially in fiction writing to maintain realistic dialogue, for example. Likewise, there are times you can be verbose. With profanity, the only exception I could see is if you are quoting someone. However, you can always block out some or all of the letters and the reader will still get the idea without having to see the word — and without you having to drag your piece through the mud. That’s what *asterisks* are for, right?

Cleaning up our language in more ways than one will streamline and professionalize our work, giving us eloquence and credibility in whatever field we engage in, from grade school to grad school and beyond!

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