Superfluous words

rogersgeorge on November 4th, 2011

I remember this lesson from junior high English. Here’s an example of what my English teacher said not to do:

 It’s kind of like going to a showing of The Princess Bride expecting to see a romance film.

Can you believe this movie has been around for 20 years?

“Kind of” and “sort of” were anathema. We were supposed to use “rather.”

This site is mostly about expository writing, the kind of writing you find in technical literature, essays, explanations, instructions; the type of writing in which you explain something. When you explain something, you want to throw as few obstacles as possible into the mental path of your reader. Unnecessary words are obstacles to comprehension—they give your mind something to examine, then reject: two steps when none will do.

In fact, my English teacher didn’t go far enough. “Rather” doesn’t add to the sentence, either. You send the whole message when you write

 It’s like going to a showing of The Princess Bride expecting to see a romance film.

—and it’s less work for your reader.

When your purpose is to explain something, keep an eye open for words that don’t change the meaning if you take them out. Then take them out. Your readers’ minds will thank you.

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