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Home » People » Karl Sherlock » English 098 » Instructional Resources » info | Wordiness


"Wordiness" means using more words than needed and to repeat using phrases and ideas in their writing that have been adequately expressed, or somewhat likewise not so adequately expressed, already in previous areas of the sentence that people sometimes write when they’re not sure they’ve said enough but still keep writing and writing very constantly.

Along with the mixed construction and faulty parallelism, a wordy sentence falls under the general category of “awkward writing,” which is marked using the following abbreviation


To point out a general tendency for wordiness, editors may simply write “wordy” in the margin of a paper (a.k.a., marginalia), or they may write “concise” to indicate a lack of conciseness. However, to identify a specific kind of wordiness, they will usually write






Wordiness is not the same as "rambling," which is a coherency issue. Wordiness, on the other hand, is about how much more attention the writing draws to its words, instead of to its ideas: how many words or how hifalutin the language is, rather than how scattered or convoluted the development is. The problem caused by wordiness can be compounded by rambling prose, though, and merits careful proofreading and revision.

Wordiness and Choppiness (“choppy”)

In a paragraph, choppy writing occurs when writers use a succession of simple or awkward sentences that reiterate ideas in previous sentences. Within a single sentence, choppiness happens when a part of speech or a grammatical role is unnecessarily repeated.


The more experienced pilots in the system Zeke assigned two aircraft to them.

In this example, "more experienced pilots" is a noun phrase serving as an indirect object of the verb "assigned": "Zeke assigned the more experienced pilots in the system two aircraft." The pronoun "them" is also a prepositional object serving exactly the same function: "Zeke assigned to them two aircraft." Only one of the two is necessary, and the better choice is the more detailed choice. However, you could also move the indirect object into the role of the object of the preposition: "Zeke assigned two aircraft to themore experienced pilots in the system."

Depending on the number and strength of drinks, the amount of time that has passed since the last drink, and one's body weight determines the concentration of alcohol in the blood.

In the example above, the subject of the sentence is a long gerund phrase whose gerund "depending" has the same meaning as the sentence's predicate verb "determines." One is redundant to the other, and the active transitive verb "determines" has a stronger rhetorical effect than the passive gerund "-ing" ending of "Depending": "The number and strength of drinks, the amount of time that has passed since the last drink, and one's body weight determine the concentration of alcohol in the blood." (Note the change of verb ending toagree with the plural number of the subject.)

The reason the Eskimos were forced to eat their dogs was because the caribou, on whichthey depended for food, migrated out of reach.

The subject noun "reason" has the same meaning as the subordinating conjunction "because"; both mean "the cause of"; one of them must go. If you keep "the reason" as the subject of the main clause, then the word "because" can be sacrificed. In doing this, however, the subordinate clause that once began with "because" now becomes a noun clause serving as a noun complement (a.k.a., the predicate nominative) because "was" is a linking verb: "The reason the Eskimos were forced to eat their dogs was, the caribou, on which they depended for food, migrated out of reach." If you prefer to make "The Eskimos" the subject of the sentence, then you'd need to keep "because" and delete "The reason"; after all, you must indicate the cause-effect relationship somewhere in the sentence: "The Eskimos were forced to eat their dogs, because the caribou, on which they depended for food, migrated out of reach."

Wordiness and Redundancy (“red.”)

When a writer lets a paragraph “spin its wheels” by repeating the same idea over and over in sentences that merely paraphrase one other, he is guilty of repetitive writing (“rep.”). However, when a writer commits this same error in a single sentence, it is called “redundancy” (“red.”). Redundant writing occurs for several reasons.

A Self-doubting Writer:
The writer is not confident that she has expressed herself accurately or precisely, so she uses additional language to explain the context. This is especially true of students learning new vocabulary.

EXAMPLE: Good students are, both, assiduous and hardworking, rigorously applying themselves to their studies and immersing themselves in their homework with gusto.


A Didactic Writer:*
The writer will redundantly explain simple concepts in order to be pedantic† or to prove to her readers that she understands the words she is using.

EXAMPLE: My parental figures, who raised me these many years, passed on to me their knowledge and values in steadfast hope that I would become an adult who lived in the world as they did.

*Didactic (adj.): tending to give instruction or advice, even when it is unwanted, often for no other reason than to flaunt what one knows.
†Pedantic (adj.): too concerned with the correct rules and details (for example, a pedantic attitude about language)

A Bombastic Writer:
Bombast is a verbose use of language that sounds out of place. To most ears, bombast sounds like a pretentious paraphrase:

To exist or not to exist—that is the cardinal conundrum:
Whether it is intellectually less pusillanimous to endure
the foibles and vicissitudes of daily life, or implacably
endeavor to overcome them, and, in adversarial fashion,
dispatch them utterly?


The above is enough to make poor Yorick roll over in his grave (and perhaps Shakespeare as well if he actually is in his grave). If the purpose of paraphrase is to restate concisely, then this one is an epic "fail" because it comes across as an egotistical and unnecessary repackaging of poetry already beautiful and pithy the way it is:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?


There may be occasion to paraphrase verse like Shakespeare's, but not in this manner. This bombastic writer's main purpose was to sound flashy--saying the same thing as William Shakespeare says, but in hifalutin language, and with many more words.

Most students are well familiar with the time-honored practice of using bombast to “B.S.” their way through assignments with minimum word count or page requirement. They “pad” their sentences with extra “stuff” to create the illusion they are saying more than they really are, or they intentionally articulate simple ideas with undue complexity. The instructor immediately recognizes the technique by virtue of its irrelevant content, its tendency to stall, and its needless repetition. The irony of padding is that, quite often, it takes almost as much effort to conceal one’s intellectual laziness as it does to express oneself thoughtfully and in concisely worded, relevant sentences.

Amateur astronomers observing Mars, the fourth planet in our solar system whose once- thought-to-be canals were drawn and mapped out by an Italian astronomer who was a man by the family name of Giovanni Schiaparelli, can use their very own telescopes on a clear night and, if they so desire, find the Red Planet in the night sky by looking for a celestial heavenly body with a rusty, reddish color of hue on its planetary surface.


Most of the content of this example is padded, not because the history of Mars's "canals" isn't of interest, but because it is irrelevant to the point of this sentence, which is to explain how amateurs can identify Mars. When you take this into consideration only, the redaction of the sentence leads to the following:

Amateur skywatchers can find Mars by its red color.


The next example is a typical introduction that pads the paragraph in order to make a simplistic topic seem more complicated. When writers confuse "complication" with "complexity" in order to hide a simplistic topic, an insufferable degree of wordiness usually ensues. Read on:

In modern day society, in the year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twelve, human beings all across this wide world of ours express many different interests in many different types of activities, such as working, watching TV, playing video games, brain surgery, cooking, or dancing, and one of these activities that is also quite particularly interesting to consider is traveling, which can take them to a variety of destinations to sightsee and interestingly experience so many different forms of cultures and societies that differ from their own personal forms of culture and societal civilization.

Besides spelling out the year "2012" (which is often a first sign of desperation), what else in this example seems intentionally and needlessly complicated?

Wordiness and Passive Voice (p.v.)

"Passive Voice" isn't the same as a "passive verb" or a "passive construction," but it is the result of them when writers intentionally use a pattern of passive sentence constructions and verbs to avoid naming subject nouns. When action in the sentence occurs passively, without a subject, you have to use more past participial phrases and inverted sentence structure, which requires many more words.

Some resort to passive voice in an effort to make the tone of their writing sound loftier and more intellectual than its content merits. This is not recommended. It should come as no surprise that, where passive voice occurs, so too does a prodigious amount of padding:

Unable to comply with these company policies, fifteen employees were reprimanded by Human Resources last month, which became a recognized problem. In order to have developed a solution so that an end to this problem will be reached, various procedures would have to be altered.


This example contains a litany of past participle phrases and verbs: "unable to comply"; "employees . . . were reprimanded"; "recognized problem"; "solution . . . to have developed"; "procedures . . . will be reached"; "procedures would . . . be altered." In almost all of these cases, the verb object is placed before the past participle to create a false effect of a subject. Not only, then, does this require more language, but it also weakens the tone rhetorically. A more active use of verbs allows more economy of language in the sentence:

Human Resources, who, last month, reprimanded fifteen employees unable to comply with company policies, recognized it needed to alter procedures to solve this problem.


Passive voice coupled with "business language" often gives writing an uncomfortable jargonistic tone. In the following example, what strikes you as jargon, or at least as a stuffy "business style" of writing?

Further investigation of the individual student necessities must be studied in order to avoid inappropriate placement of students.



To avoid placing students inappropriately, we must further investigate their needs.



Individual needs deserve closer investigation, if we wish to place students appropriately.

Wordiness and Gobbledygook

"Gobbledygook" is a real word, and a legitimate term used to describe the sort of wordiness that devolves into nonsense. While the average wordy prose still demonstrates a writer in control of the excessive language, gobbledygook occurs when writers lose control--when they're thinking process breaks down and the sentence structure and word choices become grasping, random, and inaccurate. The same symptoms you feel when you have very low blood sugar--unfocused and unintelligible--afflict the prose we call "gobbledygook." Educators sometimes have different names for this phenomenon; "Word Salad" is probably the most familiar. Nevertheless, handbooks of grammar and usage categorize this particularly severe kind of wordiness under the label "gobbledygook."

"In jargon, "gobbledygook" is largely a matter of circumlocution: surrounding a simple idea with lots of big, official-sounding words. The assumption is made that, if the words sound important and authoritative, then the content must also be credible.

It is important to effect the verbalization of concepts through the utilization of unsophisticated terminology. (Translation: Speak plainly.)

Pulchritude is not evinced below the dermal surface. (Translation: Beauty is only skin-deep.)

Exclusive dedication to necessitous chores without interlude of hedonist diversion renders John an unresponsive fellow. (Translation: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.)


Writers who are uncomfortable with the more sophisticated vocabulary they are told to use (or feel pressured to use) can compound the problem by choosing words inaccurately or, worse, manufacturing words that sound "big"--called a "malapropism."

In the confisticated verbage of the elitist classes, one expectorates to hear in the antidotes of polite conversation a certain degree of false wetness to be born against one's neighbors. (Translation: In the gossip of the upper classes, you expect to hear a lie now and again.)

In this example, words like "verbage" and "confisticated" are made up. They sound like other allegedly sophisticated words, but they don't really exist. Other usage--"elitist" instead of "elite"; "expectorates" instead of "expects"; "antidotes" instead of "anecdotes"; and, finally, "wetness" instead of "witness"--just misses the mark; these are real words, but not the words the writer means. When using "big words" is more about sounding "big" than about being precise, egregious mistakes of vocabulary like malapropisms can easily occur.

There's no stigmata in trying new words. However, we can all be in agreeance that being more prudentious about the habitualistic utilization of embiggened vocabulary is a superlative point of embarkation for resignation to this problem. Or, can we?


Thanks to the following on-line source for the examples of gobbledygook appearing on this page:
Student Development and Services Department. "Wordiness and Gobbledygook." Academic Skills Pages. Nipissing University. < development- and-services/academic-skills/Pages/Wordiness-and-Gobbledygook.aspx>
Last Updated: 01/16/2016


Karl J Sherlock
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