Trim the Fat: Tips for Efficient Writing

Jordan Wagenet Editing Tips, Writing Tips

In today’s world, we often write how we speak: informally, indirectly, and with less than standard grammatical practices—people know what we mean, right? Professional writing, on the other hand, requires efficient and correct verbiage to keep our readers’ attention, earn their respect, and reach our audience.

Direct writing saves space—on paper or screen—and strengthens your thoughts, helping you sound more confident, knowledgeable, and intelligent. Using a few of the Scribe Source’s writing and editing tips as guides (follow us on social media for regular tips!), we’re going to look at three areas of writing where inefficient phrasing sneaks in—hedging words, adverbs, and weak verbs—and how we can solve these issues.

Flush the Fluff: Hedging Words, Expletives, and More

To fall back on our editing team’s favorite writing tips, editing tip #486 advises the writer to eliminate “clunky sentence openers such as ‘there are’ and strengthen sentences with clearer subjects and verbs.”

This tip is referring primarily to our overreliance on expletives, which are empty words that provide structure to a sentence but not meaning. I’ve spoken about expletives elsewhere, but now we’re discussing them in a bigger context.

Expletives such as there is/are, here, and it’s effectively become the sentence subject while pushing the real topic into the predicate. While expletives can be used artistically and selectively, overuse creates wordy writing that is harder to follow and understand.

Consider the following sentence: There are a lot of people at the meeting. In this sentence, there are obscures the meaning—the reader is directed away from the topic. Removing the expletive and tightening up the subject-verb relationship produces a cleaner sentence: A lot of people are at the meeting.

When eliminating expletives, consider what part of the sentence is committing the action or is related to the verb. Strip your sentence down to just the basic subject, and you shouldn’t need expletives.

Find out how to solve three problem areas in your writing where inefficient phrasing can sneak in—hedging words, adverbs, and weak verbs. Click To Tweet

Ax the Adverbs

Our editing team pays close attention to content tip #29: “If [an adverb] masks an impotent verb, get rid of both and find a better verb.”

While some writers are opposed to adverbs in nearly all situations, the fact remains that adverbs do help clarify and diversify verbs and adjectives—when used appropriately. They become a problem, though, when we fall back on them to spice up bland verbs, when we “tell” rather than “show” the scene or story, or when we use them to state the obvious.

Look at the adverbs in the following examples:

  • He ran swiftly.
  • Her eyes moved quickly as she thought of the answer.
  • “Don’t go,” the grandmother said sorrowfully.

All three sentences illustrate the above issues. In the first, run already implies swiftness—how did he run differently, other than swiftly? In the second, move is a weak verb that is poorly strengthened by its adverb. In the third, sorrowfully is telling us what’s happening, not showing us the action. The sentences can be rewritten in the following manner:

  • He ran haphazardly.
  • Her eyes darted as she considered the answer.
  • “Don’t go,” the grandmother pleaded.

Not only has the verbiage been tightened, but the phrasing is more diverse and informative.

Catchall adverbs fool us into getting by with a smaller set of verbs and weaken our voice with watery descriptions. Specific verbs and adverbs narrow our focus, helping our readers see what we mean without extra explanation.

Adverbs become a problem when we fall back on them to spice up bland verbs, when we tell rather than show the scene or story, or when we use them to state the obvious. Click To Tweet

When reducing your word count, an early area of focus should be considering if each adverb is necessary. Does the adverb illustrate genuine differences, or can it be consolidated into a more specific verb? As a result, your voice and tone will be clearer, more impactful, and more authoritative.

Vet Your Verbs

Our final editing tip suggests that we tighten up our verb phrases. We might say provide an illustration when we mean illustrate or come to the realization instead of realize.

While the former examples may be appropriate for academic writing (provide an illustration) or polite, indirect speech (come to the realization), these phrases dilute our verbs’ power. We might think that by using more words we sound more intelligent, but ultimately, our readers work harder to understand us.

These clumsy phrasings turn up when space is of no concern. If you’re uncertain about how to tighten up your verbs, write a paragraph or two under a strict word- or page-count limit, or even consider practicing with tweets, which require a short character count.

When space is at a premium, we tap into clearer, attention-grabbing phrasing. Think of writing like packing a moving box: get as many items as you can into that box—and I don’t mean packing paper!

Direct Writing Is Powerful

We’ve seen three examples of how our writing can suffer from long-winded, flowery prose and indirect verbs. Some consideration for tone should be made when trimming the fat from your sentences, but your voice can usually be preserved while clarifying your thoughts. Tone is important, but your style shouldn’t distract the reader from your message. Consider using a thesaurus to diversify your verbs and use adverbs effectively. Examine the bare bones of a sentence to reduce expletives.

In our content-saturated world, removing distractions is critical. Every step taken toward more efficient writing helps your ideas become clearer and more accessible.


Have you been staring at your writing for so long that you’re not sure how to make it more concise? Get fresh perspective on your work from our team of editors. And don’t forget to follow us on social media for frequent writing and editing tips such as those we shared here!


About the Author

Jordan is a freelance copywriter and business blogger who joined the Scribe Source team in 2018. While she is a prolific B2B and B2C content developer, she also has a master’s degree in geological sciences and is adept at developing scientific content. Jordan also works as an English tutor, teaching literary analysis to youth. She can frequently be found working on her own fiction or helping other writers develop their stories.