#15 Teaching Writing – Avoid Wordy Sentences

Teach Writing: Editing Sentences

Writing Skills: sentence fluency, editing, word choice

What comes after ESL students write the first draft? Editing.

Learning how to edit their own work is an important English writing skill.

“Edit what?” students might ask.

One answer is to look for two kinds of writing problems in the first draft: wordy sentences and empty phrases. Helping students improve their writing skills by recognizing and fixing these problems is the purpose of this lesson. 

Edit Technique #1 – Redundant Words

There are two types of wordy sentences: 1) a sentence with two or more words that express a similar idea; 2) a long phrase is used when a single word could work.

The solution is to write shorter sentences that express the same idea. Learning how to write compact sentences is a skill that can be developed with regular practice and direct teaching of vocabulary and syntax options.

Here are some examples:

  • Wordy:  John is employed and now works for the company Samsung.
  • Better:  John works for Samsung.
  • Wordy:  She has the ability to speak several languages including Mandarin and Korean.
  • Better:  She speaks several languages including Mandarin and Korean.
  • Wordy:  The business woman is carrying a briefcase made out of leather.
  • Better:  The business woman is carrying a leather briefcase.

Edit Technique #2 – Empty Phrases

The English language uses words and phrases that don’t add much information to a sentence. They are called syntactic expletives.

They often take this form: it + be verb or there + be verb. Sometimes we need these phrases in a sentence. The problem is they can be used too often. Overuse makes text boring.

ESL students can improve their English writing style by removing expletives. Here are some  examples:

  • Wordy:  There are two apple trees which are growing behind that building.
  • Better:  Two apple tress are growing behind that building.
  • Wordy:  It is the B team that will make an oral presentation next week in class.
  • Better:  The B team will make an oral presentation next week in class.
  • Wordy:  It is likely that the price of apartments will fall next June.
  • Better:  The price of apartments will likely fall next June.

Sometimes it’s useful to keep the expletive. For example, we want to present a list of items or, for emphasis, push  important words to the back of the sentence. Here are some examples of sentences which read well with the expletive:

  1. There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not? – Robert Kennedy
  2. There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. – Aristotle
  3. Do or do not. There is no try. – Yoda

Download Worksheets: Proofreading Exercises

These worksheets contain exercises which can help students improve their writing and vocabulary by eliminating redundant words and expletives.


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