Cutting Words

You may be rolling your eyes, saying “why would I cut words when the assignment has a word limit!” 

In school, the reason you’ll want to cut words is because you’ll probably get a better mark, even if you are below the word limit. Why? Because teachers–who are, after all, readers–appreciate clarity. If your prose is cluttered up with zillions of unnecessary words, your prose will be frustrating to read and difficult to understand. (They will be reading upwards of thirty assignments like yours–they’ll be very thankful for the ones that are easy to read. Not simple-minded papers, but ones that are clearly expressed). Teachers impose word limits for a variety of reasons. Generally there are two: first, they are responsible for maintaining curriculum standards across courses of the same level; second, they want to give students a general idea of the amount of work an assignment will require. If you’ve produced a 30 page paper and then cut it to 29 pages without losing the meaning, you will improve your mark. I have already dedicated a page to Deadwood, but here I’d like to point out some other ways you can automatically produce more elegant writing. 

These examples are all taken from Thomas S. Kane and Heather Pyrcz’s excellent guide, The Canadian Oxford Guide to Writing: A Rhetoric and Handbook.

Unnecessary definition

Don’t explain what your readers can be expected to know.

Accountants sometimes function as auditors (someone from outside a company who checks the books kept by the companies own accountants).

Obvious implication

Don’t spell out ideas that are clearly implied.

Her dress was blue in colour.

They committed an act of burglary.

She was an unusual kind of child.

The punt return resulted in a fumble situation.

Words like kind, sort, type, class, are often unnecessary.

Wordy Modification

The best modification is concise and direct. Often this means not using a phrase when a single word modifier will do. 

The organization of a small business can be (briefly) described in a brief manner.

She conducted herself (professionally) in a professional manner.

Each (offensive) player on the offensive team

This is the same idea that was suggested last week.

Because they were tired, the men returned to camp.

Although they were tired, the men did not return to camp.


Don’t waste words explaining what your intentions are if they are obvious. This is especially a problem at the beginning of a paper. 

The theme that follows is about baseball. Specifically it will deal with the business organization of a major league team.

Give your reader some credit!

Supporting every major league baseball team is a complex business organization. 



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