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TIP 2. Omit Needless Words and Empty Phrases

Below is a list of phrases to eliminate from your writing. (In speaking, however, these phrases are excusable; we use them to create a little extra time to think!)

EMPTY PHRASES TO AVOID

EMPTY PHRASE EQUIVALENT
a majority of most
a number of many
accounted for by the fact that because
as a consequence of because
due to the fact that because
in view of the fact that because
for the reason that because
on account of because
on the basis of because
on the grounds that because
owing to the fact that because
an order of magnitude ten times
are of the same opinion agree
at the present (moment) now
at this point in time now
by means of by, with
despite the fact that although
during the course of during, while
fewer in number fewer
for the purpose of for
has the capability of can
having regard to about
if conditions are such that if
in all cases always, invariably
in close proximity to near
in connection with about, concerning
in my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that I think
in order to to
in the event that if
it is clear that clearly
it is often the case that often
it is possible that the cause is the cause may be
it is worth pointing out that note that
it may, however, be noted that but
lacked the ability to could not
large numbers of many
prior to before


Modified from Edward J. Huth, M.D. How to Write and Publish Papers in the Medical Sciences, pp. 102-103. ISI Press, Philadelphia, 1982.

EXAMPLE 5.After careful consideration of all the foregoing lines of evidence, it is apparent to us that among all the antibiotics discussed, penicillin is the one that should be chosen for the treatment of infections caused by the streptococcus.

Rev 5a. We conclude that penicillin is the best antibiotic for treatment of streptococcal infections.

Rev 5b. We conclude that streptococcal infections are best treated with penicillin.

Note on Example 5: The reader of this sentence can assume that we have carefully considered the evidence and are talking about what is apparent to us. This business can be conveyed by "We conclude" and then the sentence can simply and succinctly state its real topic in 1/3 the number of words.


EXAMPLE 6. Persons age 5 to 14 years are perennially more likely to have acute HAV than those older than 15 or less than 4 years of age.

Rev 6. Acute HAV infection is most common in children between 5 and 14 years of age.

Note on Example 6: The second set of numbers in this sentence is redundant. The sentence can also be stated more briefly with a better choice of subject.


EXAMPLE 7.When we speak of treatment for heart failure patients, there are two aspects to be addressed. One is the necessity to improve the quality of life and the second is the necessity to delay death.

Rev 7. Treatment of patients with heart failure needs to balance two goals: improving the quality of life and delaying death.

Note on Example 7: Like examples 4 and 5, this sentence devotes too much attention to the author/observer at the expense of the main topic. Moreover, the word "aspects" is vague and redundant words are used. Note in my suggested revision that the verb "balance" carries a lot of the meaning. Choice of strong verbs can often shorten, simplify and vitalize a sentence.


EXAMPLE 8. While it is the case that responses for many women who engaged in the risk behaviors prior to pregnancy suggested that they stopped for the duration of their pregnancy, it is also the case that there is a strong potential for women to underreport these behaviors during pregnancy.

Rev 8. Although many women reported that they stopped engaging in risky behaviors during pregnancy, it is known that women often underreport behaviors that might put their fetus at risk.

Note on Example 8: The phrase "it is the case that" is wordy, vague, and overused. Use of it twice in this sentence is a double waste of words. The use of "pregnancy" three times is another clue that the syntax of the sentence is inefficient. The revised sentence is not only briefer, but easier to read and understand. Brevity often aids clarity, if not carried to the extreme.