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There are two main
reasons for wordiness in an essay: the student has used too many words
to express something, or has said the same thing more than once, although
perhaps in different ways--in other words, has been guilty of redundancy.
Try to pare down your writing so that you don't waste time (yours or your
Here is an example of the sort of wordy writing we see all the
Within the novel Frankenstein, the author, Mary Shelley,
portrays the character of Victor as obsessive.
"Within" here is unnecessary;
"In" is all you need. You don't need to tell us that Frankenstein
is a novel, Mary Shelley
is its author, or Victor is a character in it:
Shelley portrays Victor as obsessive.
Avoid phrases like:
the fact that
in my opinion (especially when it's followed by "I think"!)
it would seem that/it seems that
the use of
We frequently see pointless
and even illogical use of "use of":
use of ice imagery
conveys a sense of desolation.
It is not the "use of" such
imagery but the imagery itself that creates the effect:
ice imagery conveys a sense of desolation.
Here's a sentence that actually
appeared in a student's essay:
Shelley's use of powerful words
such as [followed by a list of words] are used to create pity for the
Redundancies occur in
a variety of ways. Here are some phrases, for example, that are
redundant but popular:
clearly evident (if something
is evident, it's clear)
the reason why is because (a triple: say "reason," "why," OR "because" but not any two or all three)
Beware of repeating something
you've already said. For example, students sometimes want to avoid
ending a sentence with a preposition:
is the situation she finds herself in.
So, students will use a construction
like "to which" or "in which":
This is the situation in which she finds herself.
The problem is that when they
get to the end of the sentence it sounds wrong to them, so they put the
final preposition in anyway:
this is the situation in which she finds herself in.
It's better to end with
a preposition than to use it twice.
Avoid using unnecessary pronouns:
In Huxley's novel, it deals with...
In the novel by Mary Shelley, she says...
Huxley's novel deals with...
In her novel, Mary Shelley says...
Here's a classic example of redundancy; note how often the student
says exactly the same thing:
Frankenstein went headfirst into
his experiment blindly with very little thought as to the consequences,
possible outcome, and results of his actions.
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Strong and Weak Style:
Many factors influence how
your style is.
Note that the previous sentence does not say, "There are many factors
that influence how strong your style is." By avoiding "There is"
and "There are" constructions wherever you can, you can make your style
stronger. Use verbs other than "to be"; find strong ones:
weak: he is a believer in the power of Nature
believes in the power
Avoid the passive voice.
The passive voice also involves the verb "to be" and uses the past participle.
Revise your sentence to make the verb active:
passive: he is pursued by the Creature
Creature pursues him
decision is taken by him
takes the decision
active and strong:
The simple rule is: if something is done "by" someone, change the
sentence to have that someone do the action unless there's a good reason
to keep the sentence or clause passive. For example, keep the same
subject in a sentence even if one of the verbs is passive:
He entered the room and was struck
by its beauty.
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Sentence logic is different from logic in thought; it has to do with how
parts of a sentence line up.
In this problem, the writer compares very different things:
He is not at all like her personality.
You can compare "he" to "she" or "his personality" to "her personality,"
but not a person to someone else's personality.
Driving down a country road is more relaxing than a highway.
You can't compare the act of driving to a highway. The sentence should be:
Driving down a country road is more relaxing than driving
down a highway.
Another problem is syntax in which subjects and verbs don't quite line up
properly. Here are some examples:
The setting of the novel takes place in Herland, a fictional
It isn't the setting that takes place in Herland; the novel
place there. Herland is
the setting. The proper way to say it is either
The setting of the novel is Herland, a fictional country.
The novel takes place in Herland, a fictional country.
Consider the following:
The use of ice imagery creates a sense of desolation.
It is not the use of the ice imagery but the imagery itself that creates
The ice imagery creates a sense of desolation.
Here, the sentence sets up a parallel with a governing word or phrase that
doesn't apply to all the items listed:
He is intelligent, articulate, and works hard
The governing phrase is "He is":
Don't mix up parts of speech, like adjectives and verbs; it's best to choose
one (in this case adjectives) and stick to it:
He is intelligent, articulate, and hard-working.
Sometimes, the sentence starts with a parallel but then drops it partway
He was afraid of lions, tigers, and he did not even like
The solution is to separate out the non-parallel item:
He was afraid of lions and tigers, and he did not even
One thing to watch out for is the modifier--adjective, adverb, or word or
clause acting as one--that is in the wrong place in the sentence and that
seems to modify (or describe) the wrong thing:
For sale: an antique desk suitable for ladies with thick
legs and huge drawers.
The Marlboro Man would be shown sitting on a horse smoking
Put "only" in the sentence where it won't be ambiguous:
He only travels to Europe.
This could mean A. he doesn't live in Europe but only travels there; or B.
the only place he travels is Europe. Much clearer is:
He travels only to Europe.
A "squinting modifier" is even more ambiguous as it lies between two things
it could be modifying:
The weather has been so bad this winter we decided to
live in Florida for three months.
Does this mean A or B?
A. The weather has been so bad this winter that we decided
to live in Florida for three months; OR
B. The weather has been so bad that this winter we decided
to live in Florida for three months.
What does "occasionally" refer to in this sentence?
My advisor told me occasionally to work fewer hours during
the school year.
In most cases, it's unclear what the modifier is describing, but with a dangling
modifier, the modifier refers to the wrong thing entirely:
Although fictional, H. G. Wells creates a striking vision
for readers in his text.
Here, the writer is saying that Wells, not his book, is fictional.