When I ask my students how they want to improve their writing, many say they want to be more concise. Because the concept can be named in one word--conciseness--it might seem like it's a single problem to fix. However, wordy prose can be a symptom of many larger issues in writing. 

The following exercise asks students to identify several patterns of wordy prose. It's an inquiry-based activity, meaning that it asks students to make observations before I give them the grammatical terms or writing skills that would apply. They have to use their own language to describe the problems and draw from previous knowledge to fix the sentences. Then I lecture briefly on the concepts. 

For each case, students determine what the common cause of wordiness is between the examples. Next, they revise the sentencesI grabbed many of the sentences off resources from Purdue OwlUNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center, and Capital Community College

Case 1

  • The supposed crash of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico aroused interest in extraterrestrial life. This crash is rumored to have occurred in 1947.
  • Ludwig's castles are an astounding marriage of beauty and madness. By his death, he had commissioned three castles.
  • President Jefferson believed that the headwaters of the Missouri reached all the way to the Canadian border. He also believed that meant he could claim all that land for the United States.
  • Captain Lewis allowed his men to make important decisions in a democratic manner. This attitude fostered a spirit of togetherness and commitment on the part of Lewis's fellow explorers.

Case 2
  • If a situation arises in which a class is overenrolled, you may request that the instructor force-add you.
  • The teacher demonstrated some of the various ways and methods for cutting words from my essay that I had written for class.
  • Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood formed a new band of musicians together in 1969, giving it the ironic name of Blind Faith because early speculation that was spreading everywhere about the band suggested that the new musical group would be good enough to rival the earlier bands that both men had been in, Cream and Traffic.
  • He found his neighbor who lived next door to be attractive in appearance.

Case 3
  • The 1780 constitution of Massachusetts was written by John Adams.
  • Many medical terms are used by Sontag in "On Photography" when discussing the act of taking pictures.
  • The book must be read by Martha by Wednesday.
  • The dog was hit by a car.

Case 4
  • There are twenty-five students who have already expressed a desire to attend the program.
  • It is they and their parents who stand to gain the most by the government grant.
  • There were many times during the administration when war was imminent.
  • There is a desire by the public for quality programming.
  • There are five positions open on the city council.
  • It is understood by students that they will be tested.

Case 5
  • All things considered, Connecticut's woodlands are in better shape now than ever before. 
  • As a matter of fact, there are more woodlands in Connecticut now than there were in 1898.
  • There is no need for further protection of woodlands, as far as I’m concerned.
  • Our woodlands are coming back by virtue of the fact that our economy has shifted its emphasis.
  • The policy has, in a manner of speaking, begun to Balkanize the more rural parts of our state.

Case 6
  • The overall argument of Douglas Rushkoff’s “They Called Me Cyberboy,” entails that before the involvement of business corporations, the internet was a revolutionary medium.
  • “The End of Authorship?” has a constant comparison and juxtaposition of light and darkness.
  • The use of drugs is dangerous.
  • The establishment of a different approach on the part of the committee has become a necessity. 
  • Our request is that on your return, you conduct a review of the data and provide an immediate report. 

Case 7
  • Updike’s language in this quote is very particular.
  • In order to do so she uses many rhetorical methods that are both obvious and subliminal in order to persuade the reader to agree with her point of view.
  • He establishes credibility by creatively articulating his viewpoints, which subtly molds the mind of the reader to think likewise.

Case 8
  • The reason why the cartoon is a big issue is because there are many people who support gay rights.
  • One detail is that a reporter asks a question.
  • The fact is that the war is losing support.
  • His statements greater emphasize the subject of the protester’s laziness.

Student's Answers

Here's what the document looked like after my Technical Writing students got a hold of it.

My Answers 

  1. Combine sentences.
  2. Wordiness--use less words when possible.
  3. Avoid passive voice when appropriate.
  4. Avoid expletive constructions.
  5. Needless phrases, cliches.
  6. Avoid nominalization and pick the best word to make your verb.
  7. Avoid fluff and BS. If something can be said about most other things, then its not worth saying.
  8. Cut unnecessary noun phrases.  

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