Thursday, September 13, 2007

How to Avoid Overwriting (Don't Try too Hard)

New writers often feel that a formal, “academic” style is expected of them. Such writing is burdened with weak nouns and passive verbs (the result of attempting to come across as well-informed by using far more words than necessary). It is, in short, overwriting.

As with fiction, effective non-fiction relies on descriptive nouns and active verbs. So, wherever you find a noun and adjective (or a rarely used noun) replace the combination with a stronger, more descriptive noun. For example, “ivy,” rather than “leafy vine,” or “house” rather than “domicile.”

Use verbs in the active voice to add strength to statements. “Astronomers accept this theory” is stronger and more effective than “The theory is accepted by astronomers.”

Another kind of overwriting involves the writer using far too many words in order to say something that he or she could or might have said in a smaller number of words than the number of words used. If your sentences tend to be lengthy (as in the preceding sentence), and/or you use more adverbs and adjectives than necessary, look for ways to trim your sentences.

(The first sentence of the preceding paragraph was, of course, intentionally overwritten. Here is a leaner and more reader-friendly version: “Using five words to write what could written in two is another kind of overwriting.” Don’t use “… a smaller number of words … ” when “… fewer words …” will do.)
Corpyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

1 comment:

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Good advice. A nice reminder of things to watch for. These are great tips! Thanks for putting them so concisly.
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