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Fat-Free Writing
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Garbl's Fat-Free Writing Links is an annotated directory of websites that give advice on cutting the fat from your writing--so your readers can easily chew, digest and be nourished by your top-choice words. Also available here through my association with Amazon.com are several books that provide excellent advice about concise writing.


"Any one who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid."

Nearly a century ago, renowned British lexicographer H.W. Fowler wrote those words to introduce the first chapter of The King's English. In that chapter on vocabulary, Fowler translated his principle into these practical rules:

  • Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
  • Prefer the concrete word to the abstract.
  • Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
  • Prefer the short word to the long.
  • Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.

Ten years later, in the first edition of The Elements of Style, American English professor William Strunk Jr. urged his students at Cornell University to "Omit needless words":

Vigorous writing is concise. 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. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Three-quarters of a century later, the American Heritage Book of English Usage continued to exhort writers to reduce wordiness:

Most of us are busy and impatient people. We hate to wait. Using too many words is like asking people to stand in line until you get around to the point. It is irritating, which hardly helps when you are trying to win someone's goodwill or show that you know what you're talking about. What is worse, using too many words often makes it difficult to understand what is being said. It forces a reader to work hard to figure out what is going on, and in many cases the reader may simply decide it is not worth the effort. Another side effect of verbosity is the tendency to sound overblown, pompous, and evasive. What better way to turn off a reader?

Through decades and generations, many other guides, handbooks, manuals, textbooks and, recently, Web pages have offered writing advice. Without a doubt, most coax novice and experienced writers to increase reader understanding with clear and concise words, sentences and paragraphs.

That sage advice is widespread, perhaps even universal. It crosses all fields from journalism to law, from business writing to technical writing, from corporate communication to public information, from nonfiction to even fiction.

Besides this directory, the Plain Language and Action Writing directories list online resources with useful advice for you about clear, concise and readable writing.

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Dictionary of Concise Writing Dimwit's Dictionary Write Tight Garbl's Concise Writing Guide provides simpler alternatives to wordy, verbose, overstated or pompous words and phrases.

Garbl's Editorial Style Manual--About concise (adj.), concisely (adv.), conciseness (n.).


line A to Z of alternative words (PDF)--Plain English Campaign, a privately owned business based in the United Kingdom

This guide gives hundreds of plain English alternatives to the pompous words and phrases that litter official writing.

bullet Conciseness: Methods of Eliminating Wordiness--Online Writing Lab, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

Methods for eliminating wordiness that include changing phrases into words, avoiding overuse of noun forms of verbs and omitting repetitive wording.

bullet Concision from The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing--Michael Harvey, professor, Department of Business Management, Washington College, Chestertown, Maryland

Discusses the lure of wordiness and shows ways to eliminate excess words, weak adverbs, and empty words and phrases.

bullet Curing Wordiness--Transaction Net, San Francisco, California

Topics include attacking wordiness at its source, holistic cures for wordiness and concrete antiwordiness strategies.

bullet Eliminating Wordiness--Undergraduate Writing Center, University of Texas at Austin

This document discusses the causes of wordiness and how to avoid it.

bullet How to Make Sentences Clear and Concise--Writer's Web, University of Richmond, Virginia

Describes the "Paramedic Method" for making your writing clearer and more concise, as developed by Richard Lanham, English professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.

bullet How to Write Clear, Concise, and Direct Sentences--Grammar Handbook, Writing Center, University of Wisconsin at Madison

Advice describes using active verbs and avoiding wordy phrases and verbs, prepositional phrases, vague and inflated nouns, and noun phrases.

bullet Nine Easy Steps to Writing Longer Sentences--Kathy McGinty at Plain Language Action Network

The author shows how easily you can increase the verbiage in this ludicrously short and simple sentence: More night jobs would keep youths off the streets.

bullet Plague Words and Phrases--Charles Darling, professor of English/humanities, Capital Community-Technical College, Hartford, Connecticut

Avoid problems created by words and phrases listed here.

bullet Principles of Clear Writing--U.S. Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration

Discussion of 22 principles that include using active verbs, present tense, simple words and short sentences, and omitting needless words, negative phrases and redundancies.

bullet Reducing Wordiness: Occam's Razor Still Applies--John T. Harwood, director, Education Technology Services, Pennsylvania State University

Lists ways to reduce wordiness.

bullet Removing Word Clutter--Jennifer Jordan-Henley, Online Writing Lab, Roane State Community College, Oak Ridge, Tennessee

This list of clutter words, mostly from business and technical writing, includes "many redundancies, clich├ęs, and bureaucratic phrases so ingrained in our speech and writing that most writers must concentrate just to notice them."

bullet Revising to Eliminate Wordiness--Online Writing Manual, written by Jeff Jeske and maintained by Laura Parker, Guilford College, Greensboro, North Carolina

Lists more than 10 ways to cut wordiness, including converting prepositional phrases to possessive nouns and compressing adverb phrases to participle phrases.

bullet Strategies for Reducing Wordiness--Judith Kilborn, The Write Place, St. Cloud State University, Minnesota

Describes ways to revise patterns of wordiness, such as filler phrases, passive verbs, weak verbs and prepositional phrases.

bullet Tips for Reducing Wordiness--Language and Academic Skills Unit, La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia

Eleven tips that include reducing the number of "is" sentences, eliminating words that say the same thing and avoiding stating the obvious.

bullet Wordiness: Danger Signals and Ways to React--Margaret Procter, Ph.D., coordinator, Writing Support, University of Toronto, Canada

Lists eight common patterns of wordiness and sensible things to do about them.

bullet Banned for Life--Thomas L. Mangan, copy editor, San Jose [California] Mercury News

"This page is devoted to those expressions so hackneyed and insufferable that they should be forever banned from the nation's news reports."

bullet Writing Concise Sentences--Charles Darling, professor of English/humanities, Capital Community-Technical College, Hartford, Connecticut

"Whether it's a two-word quip or a 200-word bear, a sentence must be a lean, thinking machine. Here are some notes toward efficiency and conciseness in writing."


Creativity | Writing Process | Grammar | Style and Usage | Reference Sources | Words |Fat-Free Writing |  Plain Language | Action Writing | Word Play | Favorite Writers

Home ] [ Writing Resources Home ] [ Style Manual ] [ Plain English Guide ] [ Concise Writing Guide ] [ Writing Bookshelf ] [ What's New ]

Created and maintained by Gary B. Larson of Seattle, Washington, garbltoo@gmail.com.

Updated July 11, 2012.