Weed Out!

By, Arun Dash

A struggle to master the art of writing continues unabated till we reach the graveyard. Or so does it seem to a few humble souls! Given that, there is learning all the way.

Many a time, in our write-ups, we tend to use words and phrases that are not critical to convey our thoughts to the readers. Those are exactly what William Strunk, Jr. refers to as ‘needless words’ in his book The Elements of Style. While propounding ‘Omit needless words’ as an elementary principle of composition, he elucidates: ‘A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

We use verbose phrases or redundancies perhaps because we feel:

  • They add weight to our thoughts.
  • They are better substitutes for the commonplace words frequently used.
  • They bear the stamp of an expert author.
  • They sound better compared to their alternatives.

However, the above assumptions may not be true like any other assumption. More importantly, when we use such phrases or expressions, we tend to overlook the problems they might cause, such as:

  • Confusing the readers by infusing ambiguity in the understanding.
  • Adding to the wordiness of our write-ups.
  • Lacking clarity due to the use of jargons or clichés.

Aren’t these reasons enough to proofread our final drafts to weed such elements out?

Here are a few words and expressions that we must keep our eye on while using them in our writing.


Use Instead of
essential absolutely essential
experience actual experience
adding adding together
plan advance plan
combine combine into one
status current status
outcome final outcome
history past history
reason reason why
facts true facts
whether whether or not

Wordy Phrases

Use Instead of
many a large number of
like along the lines
always at all times
now at this point in time
although, even though despite the fact that
is has been widely acknowledged as
meet hold a meeting
often in many cases
to in order to
during, while in the course of
if in the event that
as in the form of
usually, generally in the majority of instances
daily on a daily basis

William Strunk, Jr.’s Selection

Use Instead of
whether (the question whether) the question as to whether
no doubt (doubtless) there is no doubt but that
used for fuel used for fuel purposes
he he is a man who
hastily in a hasty manner
this subject this is a subject which
His story is strange His story is a strange one
since (because) owing to the fact that
though (although) in spite of the fact that
remind you (notify you) call your attention to the fact that
I was unaware that (did not know) I was unaware of the fact that
his failure the fact that he had not succeeded
my arrival the fact that I had arrived

Whether it is an expression or a phrase, words in it have their own weights. Unless we weigh each word in them before use, it might end in miscommunication. Therefore, let’s pay heed to Anatole France’s advice: Caress your phrase tenderly: it will end by smiling at you. Happy writing!

About the Author

Arun Dash works as a Senior Technical Author for AVEVA Hyderabad. He is an avid reader of editorial columns and short write-ups. Voluminous paperbacks seldom interest him though. He is now pursuing PhD in English from KIIT University, Bhubaneswar. You can reach him at mailarru[at]gmail[dot]com.