Today seemed like a good day for a re-writing prompt. This one is drawn from William Zinsser's On Writing Well. All nonfiction writers should have a dog-eared copy of this classic guide. While his advice skews toward the journalistic, all writers can benefit from it. I often recommend it to academic writers, as much of his advice attacks unclear language--something in which scholars are often drowning.
On this Monday morning, let's set our sights on one of those clarity-destroying imps of language, which Zinsser calls:
Prune out the small words that qualify how you feel and how you think and what you saw: "a bit," "a little," "sort of," "kind of," "rather," "quite," "very," "too," "pretty much," "in a sense," and dozens more. They dilute your style and your persuasiveness.
Don't say you were a bit confused and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be confused. Be tired. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don't hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident....The large point is one of authority. Every little qualifier whittles away some fraction of the reader's trust. Readers want a writer who believes in himself and in what he is saying. Don't diminish that belief. Don't be kind of bold. Be bold.
Choose a chunk of your current writing project (some discrete portion, be it chapter, section, or article) and drive out these quiet destroyers of authority. To Zinsser's list, please add "perhaps," "maybe," "might," "possibly," and all of their kin. You'll be left with something leaner, tougher, and more direct--as if your chapter woke up and discovered it was Dirty Harry.