Want to Write More Clearly and Concisely?

I’m a technical writer and editor, and my clients often ask me for feedback on their writing. One piece of advice I give nearly all my clients is to eliminate redundant and unnecessary phrases.

Redundant Phrases Muddy Your Message

Redundant phrases make writing clunky and sometimes unclear. A few examples of redundant phrases are end result, skin rash, and major breakthrough. If we delete the redundant words, we’re left with result, rash, and breakthrough.

Most unnecessary phrases come at the beginning of a sentence. Examples include It is important to note, There is, and In other words. These phrases are  extra words that add no value to a sentence. Your writing will be stronger and clearer if you delete them.

Writers use redundant and unnecessary phrases out of habit and because they’re often used in speech. However, these phrases make your writing muddy and detract from your message.

Ready to Trim the Fat From Your Writing?

I’ve compiled a list of the redundant and unnecessary phrases I see most often: The Essential Guide to Redundant and Unnecessary Phrases. Download the PDF, and keep it handy to help you write more clearly and concisely.

Writing Tip: Is It OK to Split Infinitives?

I was taught at a young age that splitting infinitives is wrong.

What Is an Infinitive?

An infinitive is to + a verb. For example, to travel.

A split infinitive has a word or phrase between to and the verb. Likely the most famous example of a split infinitive is from Star Trek: “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Whether to Split Is Up to You

For years I followed the “do not split infinitives” rule and wrote lots of awkward sentences.

Sometime in the late 90s, I decided to look the rule up in The Chicago Manual of Style and couldn’t find it!

I looked in other major current style manuals and found no rule to support what I’d learned in school.

Splitting infinitives isn’t ungrammatical or wrong. It’s a stylistic choice, so go with what sounds most natural in your writing.

Further Reading

Check out this Grammar Girl post for more on the history of this rule.

Here’s a question in The Chicago Manual of Style Q&A on the topic.

Writing Tip: Gibe, Jibe, and Jive

What’s the difference between gibe, jibe, and jive?

I looked this up recently when I was working on a piece that used jive to mean in agreement. I thought it should be jibe but wanted to see if jive is listed as an alternate spelling. More on that below.

These Three Words Look Similar But Mean Different Things

Gibe means both to taunt using sarcastic words and a sarcastic taunt.

Jibe means in agreement. It’s also a sailing term that means to shift from one side to the other or to change a ship’s course by moving the sails to the opposite side of the boat to catch wind from a different angle.

Jive was popularized by jazz and swing musicians in the 1920s. It can mean both deceptive, glib talk and to talk in a misleading, exaggerated manner. It can also refer to jazz and swing music.

Jive is also commonly used to mean jibe or in agreement. However, Merriam-Webster and the American Heritage Dictionary do not include this meaning even though it’s been used in this sense since the 1940s. The OED does include this meaning in definition 1b under verb.

It will be interesting to see if that sense earns an entry in major US dictionaries.

Merriam-Webster Won This One

This Merriam-Webster post on the definitions of the three words persuaded me to change jive to jibe because the client’s house dictionary is Merriam-Webster.

If you’re interested in learning how words get added to the dictionary, check this out.

Do You Use e.g. and i.e. Interchangeably?

The abbreviation e.g. is short for exempli gratia in Latin and is used to mean for example.

How to Use e.g.

Use e.g. to list examples of one or more things, like this: I eat fruit for breakfast every morning (e.g., bananas, pears, figs).

In the above example, I list types of fruit I might have for breakfast, but it’s not an exhaustive list — I might eat other fruits not listed here. ⁣

TIP: Never use both e.g. and etc. in a list — it’s redundant. Pick one or the other.

How to Use i.e.

The abbreviation i.e. is short for id est in Latin and is used to mean that is.

Use i.e. with a clarifying statement, like this: Brake/break and weather/whether are homophones (i.e., pairs of words that sound the same but have different meanings).

The part after i.e. in this example clarifies what a homophone is. It’s one specific thing, not one example of several possible things.

Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

A Simple Trick to Remember the Difference

Here’s my favorite way to remember the difference between e.g. and i.e.:

e.g. = example given

i.e. = in other words

Write the Rule Down

Because e.g. and i.e. are often mistakenly used interchangeably, it’s a good idea to include guidance for how to use them in your writing style guide.

Three Tips for Editing Your Own Writing


Editing your own writing is hard. You can be the best editor in the world, but it will always be easier to edit someone else’s writing than your own.

I always recommend hiring a professional substantive editor and copy editor. However, you can get your writing in decent shape if you follow these three tips.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

1. Create a Reverse Outline

A reverse outline is an outline of what you’ve already written — not what you think you’ve written.

Working from your completed draft, use two columns to create your outline. In column 1, write a short summary of each paragraph. In column 2, explain how each paragraph summary supports the main idea of your piece.

A reverse outline can help you

  • assess whether the piece is logically structured,
  • check for unnecessary repetition,
  • identify gaps,
  • and ensure it will make sense to the reader.

2. Look at It in a Different Format

Save it as a PDF and read the PDF on a tablet or ebook reader or print out a hard copy. It will give you a different perspective and help you catch errors.

3. Read It Aloud or Use Your Word Processor’s Read Aloud Feature

Reading a piece aloud can help you notice awkward phrasing, repetition, and unnecessary words and phrases that you might not notice when reading it on the screen or on paper.