Cut The Fat; Make Your Writing Lean: #Tip 02.


Many writers welcome the sharing of ideas that might improve our craft. So, let’s chop the fat from our writing. Make it lean and trim. Readers will thank us.

In this series, I’ll look at some common redundancies. (I had hoped someone perspicacious might point out that the first post title in this series used a redundant adjective, ‘out’, but no matter. I’ve removed it for the remainder.)

But, reading this and nodding wisely in agreement won’t do. We need to stay alert to those extraneous words that sneak into text, or they’ll reappear. Including this aspect in our editing process should catch most offenders.

Actual facts:

By their nature, facts are ‘actual’, so the adjective is redundant. e.g. If you examine the actual facts of the case, you’ll see what I mean. Try: Look at the facts of the case and you’ll see what I mean.

Empty out

Unless you’re trying to convey the sense that something is being removed from one place to another, as in ‘Empty the bin into that bag,’ you don’t need the adjective. To empty something is to take out its contents, so ‘out’ is unnecessary. e.g. Empty out the vacuum cleaner bag. Try: Empty the vacuum cleaner bag.

Made it to

This is a colloquial phrase and could be considered a bit flabby, especially in a nonfiction work. However, used as dialogue in the mouth of an appropriate character it would be fine. For narrative purposes it’s probably better to use a more specific word. e.g. Shona made it to the top by dint of her appearance and determination. Better: Shona reached the top through her appearance and determination.

Please consider these suggestions as just that: they’re intended to make us think about what we write, to examine the words and help us decide where we can improve the sense of them. Writing rules are useful guides, but, as George Orwell famously said, ‘Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.’