Finding and Removing Unnecessary Words
A rambling college essay is a common problem. With only 500 words at your disposal, how can you cut it down and still get your story across? Let's assume that you've already examined your essay to make sure all the major sections are necessary. You're afraid that cutting anything else will put clarity at risk. It's time to go sentence-by-sentence and interrogate each word with this question: are you necessary? The following examples will give you more information about how this process works.
Example: Having just visited Washington, D.C. myself, I can say that the Lincoln Memorial is the greatest monument an American citizen can view in our nation's capital.
In this sentence, we know that the writer is the person who visited D.C. Therefore, "myself" is redundant. Unless the writer specifically means that the Lincoln Memorial is only great for Americans, we can also remove a good portion of the middle of the sentence. Finally, since we know we're talking about Washington, D.C., we can just call it "our capital." We could even go further and replace "in our nation's capital" with the word "there."
Shortened version: Having just visited Washington, D.C.
Adverbs often contribute the least to a sentence. As long as your verbs are lively and specific, you shouldn't need too many. Beware anytime you see this part of speech.
"Really" adds a bit of emphasis, but not enough if you need to shorten your essay or want tight prose.
Like adverbs, adjectives modify other words, but sometimes the modification doesn't add very much.
Example: We ventured outside into the
When hearing the word "snow," the reader will imagine that bright whiteness on his or her own.
Example: I picked the tiny purple flowers that grew next to the tall tree.
The more specific the better, so the writer should try to name the purple flowers. Violets are both purple and tiny, so that replaces three words with just one. Also, flowers always grow and trees are always tall, so these modifiers are unnecessary.
Shortened version: I picked the
Here's one last example of a sentence with an unneeded adjective:
Example: The clacking rain fell against the windows.
The verb in this sentence isn't very vivid, so "clacking" can replace it:
Shortened version: The
Other Ways to Tighten
Along with adjectives and adverbs, take note of when you use the word "not."
Example: The box seemed to not have anything in it.
You can often lose a few words if you say what something is rather than what it is not. While we're at it, this sentence also shows that "seemed to," and similar uncertain phrases like "looked like" and "as if," can be cut.
Shortened version: The box
Also look out for "that," "which," and "who." You can often do away with them.
Example: Her friend, who was strong, helped me move the boxes.
Example: He left the party, which was smart.
If you're 200 words over the limit, these strategies may not help very much. If you're looking to get rid of 50 words, though, they'll likely get you there. Even if you're within your word limit, it's still a good idea to go through this process. The fewer unnecessary words clogging up your prose, the more readable your essay will be.
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