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    Fat-Free Writing (Part 2)

    In part two of the Fat Free Writing Series, we'll learn how to avoid redundant phrases, clear out words that clutter our sentences, avoid qualifiers, and deflate our diction (use simple words.)

    In technical writing, it's important that a sentence only have one meaning. Users shouldn't have to guess about your intentions by interpreting every sentence. Make your sentences concise.

    Concise sentences are brief but informative. You get right to the point by avoiding wordiness.

    For example, "At this point in time, I would like to say that we are ready to move ahead to the next section of this article." Wouldn't it be much better for you, as the reader, to see "Now, we are ready to move to the next section?" We both win. You have less words to read, I have less words to type. It's a win-win situation.


    Eliminate Redundancy

    Why should you or your reader suffer through long phrases when a single word works just as well? You can replace most redundant phrases with a single word and not lose any of the meaning.

    The chart below gives a good example of redundant phrases and the single word alternatives.

    Redundant Phrase

    Single Word Replacement

    At a rapid rate

    Rapidly

    Has the ability to

    Can

    In this day and age

    Today

    Situated toward

    Near

    The majority of

    More

    Due to the fact that

    Because

    Aware of the fact that

    Know

    On a personal basis

    Personally

    Take the place of

    Substitute

    Another form of redundancy is using two words to say the same thing. For example, the following two-word phrases can be changed to one word or the other and maintain the same meaning.

    • Dead corpse
    • Final conclusion
    • Utmost perfection
    • Mental awareness
    • Mutual cooperation
    • Totally monopolize
    • Past experience
    • Mix together


    Clear the Clutter

    There are some common words that technical writers use to "fatten" up a "lean looking" set of instructions. These words don't add any meaning to the message, they only increase the word count.

    The most common clutter words are:

    • Very
    • Definitely
    • Quite
    • Extremely
    • Rather
    • Somewhat
    • Really
    • Actually
    • Situation
    • Aspect
    • Factor

    If you must use these words, make sure they serve a purpose in your message and aren't adding unnecessary bulk.


    Avoid Qualifiers

    Qualifiers are those little phrases that most writers start out each section with to justify why they are saying what they are saying. It's okay to put them in when you create your first draft. It helps you get your creative juices flowing. However, you should always remove them when you edit.

    The most common qualifier phrases are:

    • I believe...
    • It seems...
    • I feel...
    • In my opinion...
    • I think...
    • It would appear that...

    Take them out of your technical writing. They serve no good purpose.


    Deflate Your Diction

    The best technical writing is not the hundred page documents that contain a zillion three-syllable words. Readers want simple, jargon-free, specific instructions.

    They're already working hard enough trying to follow the computer program or business process. Don't make them have to work to understand your documentation also.

    The chart below identifies words or phrases that have simple replacements.

    Inflated Word

    Phrase Simple Replacement

    Utilize

    Use

    Approximately

    About

    To be cognizant

    To know

    To endeavor

    To try

    Endeavor

    Effort

    Securing employment>

    Find a job

    Demonstrate>

    Show

    Phenomenon

    Event

    Determine

    Find

    Multiplicity of

    Many

    Necessary

    Needed

    Effectuate

    Do

    Component

    Part

    Terminate

    End

    If you trim the fatty words wherever you can, you won't let your writing get flabby.

    There are always exceptions to every rule and this is true for technical writing as any other type. You must determine your audience and write accordingly.

    In part three of this series, we'll learn how to determine our audience and other ways to review our documentation to make sure we are as specific as possible.

    Copyright © 2001 Vicki M. Taylor

    Vicki M. Taylor writes thrilling fiction with strong women characters. You can find out more about her at vickimtaylor.com.

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