Writing is scrapping, “omit unnecessary words” at least according to Journalist and AKO literature prize winner Jeroen Brouwers. He applies a hard rule: whoever uses ‘but’ on a page more than three times cannot call himself a writer. *
When I read that, I took a closer look at my last article for the Volkskrant (about a visit to Chernobyl). taken. I immediately go wrong there, the beginning is by no means short and to the point. The word ‘but’ occurs four times in the first 300 words. Fortunately, the editorial board ( have respect for the editor !) Decided to omit unnecessary words, so that my name as a writer could be saved.

Okay, Brouwers’ rule may be a bit exaggerated. But he does make an important point. As writers and journalists, we all have a few pet words – usually signal words such as ‘but’, ‘if’ and ‘ultimately’ that help us to guide readers through the story as smoothly as possible. We often overuse these signal words. We underestimate the reader by sending him or her too much – it’s like offering an adult a bike with training wheels.

(In my basic course, catchy writing, you not only learn to delete more words, but also to write shorter and more powerful sentences in your texts and to get to the core more quickly).

To write is to delete: pay attention to unnecessary words

I have more little word addictions that sometimes come on suddenly. For example, a few months ago, I got this comment from an editor while submitting an article about a bizarre scientific study of the smell of death. ‘Nice piece. One minor comment. In terms of style: you can always delete the word ‘whole’ in my experience.(omit unnecessary words) ‘

When I read the article, it turned out that I used the adverb ‘whole’ in six sentences (the piece was four pages long). And indeed: I could easily delete it everywhere.

I think it is good for any writer to think about his own word addictions. Writing concisely is extremely difficult.

Below I discuss some unnecessary words. I – and everyone with me – should omit unnecessary words from texts more often. Look them up with the search function in Word and delete them if possible: your text is guaranteed to be better (please note: sometimes the advice ‘writing is deleting’ is counterproductive)

While
When

These words are often superfluous, but oh so tempting, especially in reports in which you describe actions. Leave them out as much as possible and your sentences will always run better.

Not: while we get into the back of the car, the policeman lights a cigarette behind the wheel.

Well: we get into the car. The cop behind the wheel lights a cigarette.

So

One of those signal words discussed earlier that are often redundant. ‘So’ indicates a cause – and effect that is already clear from the sentence structure in a good text. Again: writing is scrapping!

I am sick so I stay at home.
I am sick, I stay at home.

Whole

The word after this adverb says enough on its own. If you omit ‘whole‘, a sentence becomes more powerful. When you read this word in your texts, it is good to think again about the ‘writing is deleting’ principle.

The woman was very smart.
The woman was smart.

But

You contradict it and thereby attract the reader’s attention. Tempting to use this word even when there is no such contradiction at all, as in my Chernobyl article.

For example, I wrote:

We have to step on a radiation meter, which checks whether there are radioactive particles on our bodies. I look at the dust on my arms and sleeves. But the device’s alarm does not go off.

The word ‘but’ has no function at all. And so here again applies: writing is scrapping. The sentence below reads more smoothly and is nicer.

We have to step on a radiation meter, which checks whether there are radioactive particles on our bodies. I look at the dust on my hands and sleeves. The device alarm does not go off.

Nevertheless

This one also scores high on the list of unnecessary words. The same danger as ‘but’. If the word does not indicate a clear change in your story, leave it out.

Often
Sometimes

Usually

With words like this you cover yourself up (you don’t write that something is like this, but write that something is often / sometimes so so that no one can dispute your statement) and that makes a text less strong. Take the sentence below.

The Vikings often played a primitive game of chess in the evenings. It was played on a board of 7 by 7 fields.

The Vikings played a primitive chess game in the evenings. It was played on a board of 7 by 7 fields.

(Your reader may well think that the Vikings sometimes went to bed early one evening)

Ultimately

If you have to use this word to announce that the end of a sentence, paragraph, or article is approaching, you have not built your story properly.

Actually

A guarantee for uncertain language use. Unless you want to radiate this with a sentence (for example in a dialogue, in a quote from an insecure person), you can actually always delete it.

Jan shouldn’t actually pick his nose.

Why not just:

Jan shouldn’t have to pick his nose.

Factually

Another superfluous addition that rarely makes a sentence stronger, it has something superfluous and know-it-all about it.

That is factually incorrect.

That is incorrect.   

Will, can, must, become, may, want, go

You can hide well behind auxiliary verbs. But they make sentences needlessly cumbersome. Drop these words if you want to write succinctly.

Unfortunately, we had to fire our secretary Anja. We will miss her. We regret that the collaboration was not allowed to last longer.  

That can be shorter and more honest.

Unfortunately, we fired our secretary Anja. We are going to miss her. We regret that the collaboration has not lasted longer.  

In short

This may be my biggest addiction word. I use ‘in short’ all the time – just search in Google for ‘Writing fish’ and ‘in short’.

In short, it is tempting to use, because afterward you can repeat your message and formulate it a little more boldly. But that quickly becomes a trick. My good intention for 2021: delete ‘in short ‘ more often, or omit unnecessary words.