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How to Firm Up Flabby Prose

------------------------------------------------------------Copyright 2002 by Beth Mende Conny, WriteDirections.comAll rights reserved in all media.The content of this article may be forwarded in full...

Copyright 2002 by Beth Mende Conny,
All rights reserved in all media.

The content of this article may be forwarded in full without
special permission provided it is used for not-for-profit
purposes and full attribution and copyright notice are
given. For other purposes, contact Beth Mende Conny at

Want to be a lean, mean, writing machine? Then put your
words on a diet. Here are some great suggestions for cutting
flab, firming muscle and punching up your prose.

Learn to strip
Brilliant as your prose may be, you likely can toss a word
or two ... or three or twenty. Be brutal. Strip away the
extraneous until your sentences go buck naked. They can
then, like streakers, zip across your page.

Remember the if's
If you can say it in one page instead of three-do so.
If you can say it in one paragraph instead of three-do so.
If you can say it in one sentence instead of three-do so.
If you can say it in one word instead of three-do so.
If you can say it in a one-syllable word instead of one with
three-do so.

Avoid repetitions, redundancies, reiterations, restatements

* owns his own business = business owner
* a great number of times = many times
* red-colored train = red train
* broke both his legs = broke his legs
* during the winter months = during winter
* in the not-too-distant future = in the future
* at this point in time = presently/now
* postponed until later = postponed
* mutual cooperation = cooperation

Take action
In writing, as in life, you can't sit there like a blob.
You've got to use the active voice. Before and after

* The ballots were counted by him. = He counted the
* He was robbed by a knife-wielding teenager. = A knife-
wielding teenager robbed him.
* There is much that today's parents have to worry about.
= Today's parents have much to worry about.
* It has been shown by numerous studies that insulating
your water heater saves energy. = Studies show you save
energy by insulating your water heater.

Don't be dramatic
When possible, use the plainest words possible. For example,
too often we use "exclaim", "declare" or "chime" when plain
ole "said" would do. Said's a great word; it doesn't draw
attention to itself. Readers skip over it and concentrate
instead on what's being said. Other examples:

* meander/shuffle/saunter = walk
* odorous/malodorous/redolent = smelly
* mawkish/maudlin/bathetic = sentimental

BTW-Sometimes people don't just walk; they really do
meander, shuffle and saunter. Allow them their style, but
keep your words in check.

Mix it up
Good writing has flow. One sentence rolls into the other,
creating an ebb and flow of words. Stop the flow and you get
writing like this:

* I love chocolate. Chocolate is tasty. Chocolate cookies
are my favorite. I like chocolate ice cream, too. I like
chocolate milk.

An alternative:

Chocolate cookies, ice cream, milk-I love anything

Don't worry about punctuation and grammar
Big deal if you don't know the difference between who and
whom, or when (or when not) to use a colon. Most of us
don't, which is why books on punctuation and grammar abound.
Use them as you need them.

Hot tip: Find three books written in a style even you
understand. When you get stuck, say, on split infinitives,
glance through all three for guidance. You'll find that
three angles are better than one and almost always provide
the guidance you need.

BTW-According to one of my grammar books, split infinitives
are acceptable when writing informally. My other two books
say no, no, no. HereHealth Fitness Articles, I defer to the minority.

Article Tags: Three-do Soif

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Beth Mende Conny is the founder and president of She has published more than four dozen
books and collections, and helps individuals and businesses
bring their projects to publication. She can be contacted at

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