3 Tips to Kill Passive Verbs & Wasted Words

One of my worst writing habits is writing filler text, the most common offense being passive verbs. Here are the 3 things that help me write clearer using fewer words:

  1. Read every day. We emulate what we consume. When I go months without reading books I can feel my writing getting looser. Many great authors, like Stephen King, also offer free writing tutorials.
  2. Stylewriter highlights writing errors. It costs $150, but is cheap if you want to write for a living.
  3. Twitter offers 140 characters. Many 160 character messages fit in 140 characters when optimized.

What are your favorite writing tips & tricks?

Published: April 16, 2008 by Aaron Wall in publishing & media


April 16, 2008 - 11:01am

Hi Aaron,

I often try to split my longest sentences (which I try to avoid) in 2 parts. Then, I almost-everytime realise than one of the parts is not really needed.

And thanks for the reminders !

Lee Johnson
April 16, 2008 - 11:35am

I often ramble when I write content. I will take the advice and hopefully It will improve my copy to be more bold and straight to the point.

Keep the ideas coming.

April 16, 2008 - 11:58am

Mark Twain's editor asked him to make his commentary shorter. "Shorter?" Twain replied, "I can't it takes too long".

April 16, 2008 - 1:44pm

Twitter use forces brevity in thought expression and my overall writing has trended that way since becoming a regular Twitter user.

April 16, 2008 - 3:29pm

Definitely have to agree that reading everyday is the best way to learn to write well.

Although I took a few prof. writing course in college, my writing ability was established long before I made it to college, simply b/c I'm a voracious reader and have learned from every author/book I've ever read (which is A LOT, since I tend to go thru 1-4 books per week, easy).

I definitely couldn't spout off grammar rules to you - I just instinctually and naturally know what looks/sounds right and what doesn't. Ahh, the beauty of being a bookworm!

FYI, for anyone with kids - some studies show that students who read a lot tend to do better on tests, especially standardized (SATs) and what not. Real life case - when I was in high school, I had a friend just as intelligent as me school-wise, but she didn't really read. When it came to our standardized test scores, I blew her away. When it came to other schoolwork, we were pretty equal.

The moral of this story? Encourage your kids to read on their own, it's better than tv! ::cue the cheesy NBC "The More You Know" music::

April 16, 2008 - 6:57pm

>>We emulate what we consume

This is so true.

I'll admit that I occasionally read mind-leaching fiction to relax. But as I have so little free time, I am trying to read literature that actually has some value.

Some of my favorite authors for style are Margaret Atwood, John Steinbeck, and Robert Fulghum. Actually, Robert Fulghum's books are more of a blog format, and ongoing conversation with his readers.

Marios Alexandrou
April 16, 2008 - 10:09pm

Read everything you write out loud. You'd be amazed at the mistakes you catch when you do that.

April 20, 2008 - 5:28pm

Thanks for updating a novice like me...

April 28, 2008 - 1:10pm

When I write I can always make a point better in one sentence instead of 2. More concise and straight to the point writing makes for a better read, prompting the reader to want more from you and not splitting mid way through the read.

May 5, 2008 - 1:55am

I always look at the verbs I'm using. Is the best verb for so many sentences "is"?

Sometimes yes, but often not. When we pause and ask ourselves what verbs might work better, it forces us to articulate ideas at a higher level.

June 2, 2008 - 3:40pm

Not sure if everyong is familiar with the game Kerplunk but its the one where you have a Chute full of marbles held up by straws. As you remove straws one by one, you suddenly atler the whole balance and all the marbles fall through.

How does this fit in with Aaron's blog post here?

Well the game I play is to take a sentence I have written and then try to remove words without changing the meaning of the sentence. It's amazing how many words you can take out sometimes and you start to get quite good at it.

Of course, if you take out too many the sentence loses all meaning. KERPLUNK!!!

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