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Fat-Free Writing
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PLEASE NOTE: I am happily retired in Port Townsend, Washington. I have deactivated Garbl's Writing Resources and am no longer adding, revising, or updating writing resources in this section or any other section.. But please continue to visit and use my free Editorial Style and Usage Manual, Consise Writing Guide and Plain English Writing Guide. I update their content occasionally.

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.

"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.

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

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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--Online Writing Lab, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

This resource will help you write clearly by eliminating unnecessary words and rearranging your 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 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 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

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 Port Townsend, Washington,

Updated March 6, 2016.