This is a writing problem that is easy to correct. (10 words)
This writing problem is easy to correct. (7 words)
When editing your draft, search for the word “is.” In the two sentences above, searching for “is” and rephrasing the sentence enabled the writer to cut 30% of the original word count without losing any of the original sentence’s meaning.
Short Tip: Use the “find” function in your word processor (Ctrl+F) to search for the words “is,” “was,” “are,” and “were.” These words are symptoms of wordiness.
Here’s how and why you should cut “is” as much as possible:
“Is” is a symptom of loose writing. Where “is” appears, other inefficient, wordy construction often follows. “Is” works well at the draft phase of the writing process. It’s also a great choice when you want to define something (as in, for example, “‘Is’ is a symptom of loose writing”).
In short: “is” presents an opportunity for revision.
Use the search function on your word processor to search for the word “is” in your manuscript. When you come across an instance of “is”, read the sentence while looking for a new verb to replace “is”.
For example, in the sentence The function of this department is the collection of accounts, we can get rid of the hollow verb “is” by replacing it with “collecting”: This department collects accounts. Similarly:
- The current focus of the medical profession is disease prevention. (10 words)
Currently, the medical profession focuses on disease prevention. (8 words)
- Our intention is to perform an audit of the records of the program. (13 words)
We will audit the program’s records. (6 words)
You’ll notice in the second example above that I have not limited my revisions to just the verb “is”. Because “is” serves as a symptom of loose, baggy writing, I encourage you to look at the entire sentence that surrounds that verb to see if there are other places where you can tighten up your phrasing.
While this may look like a labour-intensive process, cutting “is” as much as possible can cut a significant percentage of your word count over the course of an entire document, with minimal if any changes to the meaning of your text.
Sword, Helen. The Writer’s Diet. Auckland University Press, 2015.