Remove empty fillers

In spoken English, many words and phrases act as "fillers." They have little more meaning than and-um or clearing one's throat. Unless they are used to excess, neither the speaker nor his audience is even aware of them. In the lecture hall, a case for their utility can even be made - they pace a lecturer's talk to the slower pace of note-taking by listeners.

In scientific writing, where each word should count, empty fillers have no place. Yet they sneak in, persistently and repeatedly. Certain of them are so common as to require special attention (Table 5.2). Most "it . . . that" phrases, such as "it is interesting to note that," are pointless fillers. Strike such phrases entirely. Particularly avoid those that contain thinly disguised double negatives.

When equivalent alternatives exist, choose the one that takes the least space. This rule is, after all, the single idea behind all the more specific hints. A corollary, however, is that when clarity and brevity conflict, clarity is more important than brevity.

The editor's creed

If youVe got a thought that's happy-

Boil it down. Make it short and crisp and snappy-Boil it down.

When your brain its coin has minted, Down the page your pen has sprinted, If you want your effort printed, Boil it down.

Take out eveiy surplus letter— Boil it down. Fewer syllables the better— Boil it down.

Make your meaning plain, express it, So well know, not have to guess it, Then, my friend, 'ere you address it, Boil it down.

Skim it well, then skim the skimmings,

Boil it down. Trim it well, then trim the trimmings, Boil it down.

When you're sure 'twould be a sin to Cut another sentence in two, Send it in, and well begin to Boil it down.

— Author unknown

— Author unknown

Table 5.2. Examples of "it. . . that"phrases that can be removed or replaced

Phrase with empty fillers Shorter equivalent

It would thus appear that Apparently

It is considered that We think

It is this that This

It is possible that the cause is The cause may be

In light of the fact that Because

It is often the case that Often

It is interesting to note that omit

It is not impossible that omit

A not unlikely cause could be that omit

It seems that there can be little doubt that omit

Table 5.3. Examples of tautology and hiccups; omit the italicized words

Hiccups

Tautology

continue on

1 a.m. in the morning

positive benefits

refer back

at this point in time

true facts

check up on

collaborate together

large in size

all of

circulate around

many in number

true facts

end result

red in color

enter into

mandatory requirement

repeat again

face up to

new beginning

past history

optional choice

complete stop

five in number

prioritize in order of

importance importance

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