Lazy Words – Fire Them

The easiest way to lower the word count in your copy is to eliminate the words that aren’t doing any work. Non-working words are easy to spot but you actually have to look for them. Wait a minute, one just slipped in. See it back there? Hiding between ‘you’ and ‘have’? Yep, that’s it, ‘actually’ isn’t doing any work.

Words like actually, suddenly, basically and shortly rarely do any work. They simply don’t help you move your story forward. Oh, there’s another one. ‘Simply’.

Watch for those lazy verbs too. Was, are, have been– slackers all. Want to know something else? Lazy words breed more words. For example,

“How can you tell if your words are working or not”?


“Do your words move the story”?

11 words in the first sentence, 6 in the second. Now we’re getting somewhere.

But what about the first sentence in this post? .

“The easiest way to lower the word count in your copy is to eliminate the words that aren’t doing any work”. 21 words

Not too bad, but how about,

“The easiest way to lower the word count in your copy is to eliminate non-working words”. 16 words.

Better, but still cluttered.

“Lower your word count by eliminating non-working words”. 8 words.

Even better, but I think I can make it shorter.

“Improve your copy. Eliminate unnecessary words”. 6 words

It’s difficult to remember to inspect your copy for non-working words. I forget frequently. But remembering will improve your writing.

GF 4.8


  1. Now this is the DG I remember :)

    Great post.

  2. so is that plugin doing your reading level or doing it the old fashioned way? Interesting you went from a 12 to a 4, were we supposed to notice that, and draw any conclusions?

  3. DG

    Doing it the old fashioned way. Working on a plug-in. Draw no conclusions. Way too early for that. I’m also working on a Gunning-Fog algorithm that allows me to drop in literature to analyze. ; )

  4. If I removed lazy words I would have hardly any content :P The challenge for me is this kind of editing can make writing robotic and less human?

  5. DG

    >>robotic and less human?

    You can certainly over-edit and eliminate personality, but if you’re moving your message forward and the message is really yours I wouldn’t worry too much about removing your style. Style has a tendency to come out regardless of how many words are involved.

  6. I remember one award-winning writer’s 10 rules of writing. It’s a straightforward guide to effective writing.

  7. DG

    Thanks for the link Jonathan. 10 rules and no nonsense.

  8. It took me a while to find it again, but the Word Statistics Plugin at is incredible for real-time analysis on readability using the Flesch-Kincaid method and the Gunning-Fog method. So, you can use these numbers to signal you on when you should re-write your copy!

  9. DG

    Thanks for that link, that little app is pretty impressive.

  10. Can I simply say such a comfort to discover person who essentially knows just what they’re discussing on the web. You actually discover how to bring a difficulty to light and make it critical. More people should learn it and understand this aspect of the story. I cant believe you’re not very popular because you surely have the gift.

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