Avoid redundant words for stronger writing
“Here are some helpful tips on treating back pain.” We often see such statements. But let’s stop and think a moment. Why is “helpful” there? Why would the author provide anything other than helpful tips? “Tips on treating back pain,” works just fine. Even worse is when an adjective or adverb repeats the meaning of the noun or verb it is helping, for example, “unexpected surprise”. Extra words don’t add meaning to a description; they just take up space.
When writing, we can slip into the habit of including redundant words. Adjectives and adverbs are often the culprits.
In the classic The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr. advises, “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.” He goes on to admit that adjectives and adverbs are indispensable parts of speech, but “it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give to good writing its toughness and color.”1
For example, “shout” is stronger than “spoke loudly”, just as “toy poodle” is stronger than “very small dog”. “Adjectives and adverbs should add . . . meaning to a description. If they don’t, they’re just filler.”2
Here’s another example: “I just wondered if perhaps you would be willing to send those books that I mentioned.”
This sentence waffles and makes you sound unsure of yourself. If you take out “just”, “perhaps”, and “that”, you’ll find the sentence is clearer and more confident: “I wondered if you would be willing to send those books I mentioned.”
Check your writing to avoid overusing adjectives and adverbs. As I’ve done here, consider whether the sentence can function without each word.
1. William Strunk, The Elements of Style (New York: MacMillan, 1972), 64.
2. “Unnecessary Adjectives and Adverbs”, accessed Sept 20, 2016, https://www.humankinetics.com/flguideonweb/NitToPick32UnnecessaryAdjAdv.htm