- Cut the that: One of the simplest ways to make your writing seem more polished is by cutting out any extraneous that from relative clauses. Relative clauses contain a subject and a verb and begin with a relative pronoun, such as who, whom, whose, which, or that (the pronoun itself can be the subject), or a relative adverb, such as where, when, or why. For example, “that you know the final score” and “who played violin” are both relative clauses. Most of the time, if there’s another subject besides that, you can cut the that right out. Instead of “I heard that you know the final score,” use “I heard you know the final score.”
- Be direct: There are some phrases in English that are big on presence and small on meaning. While they may seem impressive, they actually dilute the sentence. Here are some examples: in order that, for the purpose of, for all intents and purposes. Even in technical or formal writing, these phrases get in the way. There are much simpler ways of saying the same thing: in order that = to, so that; for the purpose of = because, to; for all intents and purposes = [nothing—you can usually cut]. The context dictates what the replacement is.
- Zap adverbs with verbs: Not all adverbs are useless. Some can convey a meaning that a verb alone can’t quite capture. But using a more descriptive verb thrusts an image more clearly into the readers mind. “I ran fast across the field” is not nearly as piquant as “I zipped across the field.”
- Get words: The right word can save you three—or more. For example, “spindrift” creates more interest and conveys more meaning than “spray blown from waves during a gale.” Creating word pictures requires reaching into your brain and pulling out the right phrasing from the vocabulary you have. Never stop seeking out new ways to communicate.
- Become active: Passive sentences require more words to say the same thing, and they add a layer of disconnect between the reader and the prose. Sometimes passive is unavoidable (and sometimes it’s useful), but active is usually better.
- Don’t think: Well, you should think, of course, but don’t tell the reader you are. If you’re writing an opinion piece, the reader knows it’s your opinion. So, there’s no need to say “I think” or “in my opinion.”
- Keep it simple: Most of the time, you should avoid present continuous/present progressive verbs. You’ll usually know these by the following format: form of to be (is, are, am) + [verb]ing. For example, avoid “I am hiking” or “he is moonwalking” and stick with the simple present: “I hike” or “he moonwalks.” The same is true with past tense verbs. Eschew “they were traveling” for “they traveled.”