Guest post by Carolyn Howard-Johnson: An Attack on Wordiness

An Attack on Wordiness:
All the Better for Your Query Letter My Dear Author

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Adapted from the chapter on wordiness in the second edition of The Frugal Editor: Do-it-yourself editing secrets for authors: From your query letter to final manuscript to the marketing of your new bestseller
newly available as an e-book


As writers, we all know that we should avoid wordiness. The trouble is, we become so used to phrases that clutter our speech (and our writing) that we often don’t realize they need a good edit.

I thought I’d share with you some wordy phrases that can always be shortened, though–on rare occasions–you may not want to do that. An example of such an occasion might be in the dialogue of a character who is prone to wordiness. Very occasionally the wordy phrase might reveal your intent more clearly than the shortened one. It’s yours to decide, but when you see these phrases in your writing they’re clear warnings to take heed:

“The exact same…” That’s redundant, huh? “The same” will do.

“Due to the fact that…” Substitute “because.”

“In need of…Just “need to” will usually do.

“In addition to…” is a phrase that often forces you to repeat something you’ve already said.

“Used for purposes of…” How about just “Used for…”

“She is a woman who…” can probably be replaced with the woman’s name or just plain “she.”

“May be in need of…” Shorten that one to “may need.”

There are thousands more, but once you start searching for them, others will become more evident to you. Generally, active sentences are shorter and livelier than sentences that curl back on themselves (sometimes called passive sentences).

You may ask, if these little gremlins litter our speech unnoticed, why worry? Well, they may very well annoy an agent or editor if you use them in a query letter, as an example. These people have been around the publishing yard for a while and will often use wordiness as a determiner: Should they chuck the manuscript or give it a read? I, for one, would prefer not to take that risk.

Mmmmm. “May very well…” in that last paragraph of mine. How about just “may.” Or, better, “might.” It’s nice to write like we talk. It can even help us reflect our personalities in our work. But that “very well” couldn’t add that much to this piece–especially at the risk of ticking off a reader.

I bet you can find others in this post if you look. I’m collecting often-used, wordy phrases. Maybe for a booklet. Maybe for my Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In blog ( If you think of any of your own, please let me know. If I include your suggestion, I’ll credit you and include the name of your book and a link to your Web site. Find me at HoJoNews [at] AOL. com or


Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the multi award-winningThe Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t (, winner of USA News Best Book Award and the Book Publicists of Southern California’s Irwin Award. The first edition of The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success also won a USA Book News’ award as well as a Reader Views Literary Award and nods from the Military Writers Society and Next Generation Indie Awards. The second edition has been Expanded! Updated! And Reformatted! for easy Kindle reading.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson
nstructor for nearly a decade at the renowned UCLA Extension Writers’ Program
uthor of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books including the second edition honored by USA BOOK NEWS

/ The Frugal Book Promoter:
/ Web site:
/ E-mail:
/ F
/ Twitter:
/ Pinterest:

Let’s Network Today!



Filed under Writers, writing, Writing blogs

9 responses to “Guest post by Carolyn Howard-Johnson: An Attack on Wordiness

  1. Thanks so much for running this guest post, Joy. So many of us think we don’t need help with editing because we got As in English–but there are so many editing quirks English teachers never told us about.
    Hugs, Carolyn

  2. Uh, as an English major, I do have to watch that tendency.

    • LOL. I majored in English, too, Joy. Even took advanced grammar classes. And I still think English teachers don’t know enough about publishing, formatting, and editing to be editors. (-: Though I love them dearly.

      • I figured it was me forgetting some of the rules or something, but in any case, I refresh myself with books like The Naked Writer by G. Miki Hayden–and her ebook on Punctuation (taken from The Naked Writer, as I recall). I need to read that again. Plus there are refresher articles and blogs online, and I believe you’ve helped me now and then with your blog and posts. (I could use advanced grammar classes, I know.) Oh, yes, English teachers would have to take courses to learn about publishing, etc.–and lots of refresher courses over the years.

  3. Interesting post and discussion ladies. I need to read and learn. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s