Open Government at the National Archives

Tightening Up: Use a scalpel, not a chain saw

Today's post comes from Wordsmith and Wordsurgeon Jim Worsham.

So!

You've finished that report or that article or that online posting, but it still goes over the word limit and you can't cut out any vital facts. Time for a scalpel, not a chain saw.

Go through your text word by word and find places to tighten your writing. Here are some commonly used but wordy phrases that can be tightened up and make your text shorter by using one word instead of several.

For example, you might strike ahead of schedule and say early. Or change at the present time to now.

There are other words that can be used in place of wordy constructions. For example, because can take the place of due to the fact that or for the reason that or as a result of or in view of the fact that.

If you come to an agreement, you agree. If something happens at all times, it always happens.

If the colonel was promoted to the rank of general, he was promoted to general.

I will bring to a conclusion this posting when I finish it.

If you conduct an investigation into something, you investigate it. If you extended an invitation to other investigators to join, you invited them. And if the investigation leads in the vicinity of the Jefferson Memorial, it leads close to the memorial.

If you're going to hold a meeting in the very near future, you're going to meet soon. And if you're aware of the fact that we're going to meet soon, you know we're going to meet soon.

The words although or despite come in handy when you want to condense due to the fact that or in spite of the fact that.

So does this help to sharpen your scalpel? Instead of chopping out whole paragraphs to reach the desired length, just tighten it some. Put the chain saw away.


Do you have any examples to add to this list? If so, please share them with us! Email plainwriting@nara.gov

Top of Page

PDF files require the free Adobe Reader.
More information on Adobe Acrobat PDF files is available on our Accessibility page.

Open Government at the National Archives >

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272

.