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One-Word Conciseness

Some people mistakenly think that learning to be concise only applies to wordy writers. However, conciseness is often achieved by eliminating one word. Imagine a 5, 25, 100 or 200 page document that deleted just one word in each sentence!


Yes, getting rid of the one-word extras can accomplish much, even for the direct or experienced writer. The sentences below illustrate this principle.


Sentence: The study examines the factors that facilitate the successful reintegration of 15 formerly incarcerated mothers from the perspectives of the women THEMSELVES.


Edited Sentence: The study examines the factors that facilitate the successful reintegration of 15 formerly incarcerated mothers from the perspectives of the women.


In this sentence, “themselves” is the pronoun to replace the word "women." By definition, a pronoun replaces a noun, yet the noun the pronoun replaces is placed immediately before the pronoun. Should a pronoun be used to replace a noun that was stated just one word in front of it? No!


Pronouns that end in “self” or “selves” are called reflexive pronouns; they can be used for emphasis. However, in the sentence above, the reflexive pronoun is redundant, not a technique utilized to emphasize a point.


Speakers often repeat themselves (see how this reflexive pronoun was used); in fact, repetition is encouraged to ensure an audience understands a speaker. Nevertheless, this type and style of repetition is discouraged in writing. In short, make sure to adhere to writing conventions that help to eliminate unneeded repetition in your writing.


Special note: In academic writing, the phrase “itself” is often used unnecessarily (as in “The study itself…”). Identify and remove reflexive pronouns from your academic writing when they do not replace the subject of a sentence or a clause in which they appear.


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