Tips for Tightening Wordy Sentences for the GED RLA

By Achim K. Krull, Murray Shukyn

One common problem with writing on the GED Reasoning Through Language Arts test is wordy sentences. Wordiness, in the spirit of good writing is, in the words of the great poet, something everyone should aim to eliminate so that the precision of our words shines through and illuminates the passage. You just suffered through an example of very wordy prose.

People use interjections in spoken language all the time. They use vague words and then try to clarify with a lot of descriptive language. They throw in extra adjectives and adverbs that simply repeat what the noun or verb already states. Some writers feel it sounds more academic or educated, but it merely confuses and irritates.

On the RLA test, some questions may challenge you to identify wordy constructions and choose more succinct alternatives. You also need to avoid the pitfalls of wordiness when writing your Extended Response.

Using precise language

The single most effective solution to pare down and strengthen your prose is to use the most precise words you can think of. Here are a couple of examples of wordy sentences, each of which is followed by a trimmed-down version:

  • We thought long and deeply about sending our child to a private school.

    We deliberated sending our child to a private school.

  • The group of angry protesters marched quickly to city hall and tried to break in.

    The mob stormed city hall.

Write with descriptive nouns and verbs, and you won’t need so many additional words to clarify.

Opting for active over passive voice

In a typical sentence, the actor enters first and then performs. You know from the beginning who’s doing what. Passive voice flips the order:

  • Passive: The lesson was written on the blackboard by the teacher.

  • Active: The teacher wrote the lesson on the blackboard.

  • Passive: The cells were attacked by the virus.

  • Active: The virus attacked the cells.

As you can see, the passive voice is indirect, unclear, and wordy. However, passive voice comes in handy at times, such as when a politician wants to distance herself from an unpopular decision; she can simply say, for example, “The decision was made to increase taxes.” It’s also helpful in formal essays or scientific writing, when the writer must shift the focus to the data.

Cutting out redundancy

Beware of phrases that state the same thing twice. Here are some common redundant phrases to avoid along with their succinct counterparts.

Redundant Succinct
a total of a dozen eggs a dozen eggs
briefly summarize summarize
close proximity close; nearby
cooperate together cooperate
end result result
exactly the same identical; the same
future to come future
period of two weeks two weeks
revert back revert

Avoiding overuse of be verbs

People who merely exist are boring, and so is the verb to be in all its forms: be, being, been, is, am, are, was, and were. Unless these verbs are accompanied by a real action verb, be on the lookout for a weak and/or wordy construction. Here are some examples, each of which is followed by a sample correction:

  • The protesters were the people who looted the store.

    The protesters looted the store.

  • Environmentalists were the major proponents of the new regulations.

    Environmentalists promoted the new regulations.

  • There are many constituents who would disagree with the senator.

    Many constituents would disagree with the senator.

  • It is obvious that sugar and starchy foods increase body fat.

    Obviously, sugar and starchy foods increase body fat.

Don’t use expletives in your writing. No, we’re not talking about swear words here; you need to avoid the “it + be” and “there + be” constructions known as expletives. These setups, such as “It is important that” and “This is the person who,” almost always produce weak, wordy sentences. (Definitely avoid the other kind of expletives on the RLA test, too.)

You can find entire websites devoted to concise writing, complete with plentiful examples, exercises, and even some sample questions. Search the web for “concise writing” or “eliminating wordiness.”

Saying no to nominalizations

Nominalizatons are the noun forms of verbs. Here are a few examples:

Verb Nominalization
Analyze Analysis
Collect Collection
Conclude Conclusion
Demonstrate Demonstration
Discover Discovery
Fail Failure
Indicate Indication
Refuse Refusal
Stabilize Stabilization

You can slash word count while strengthening your prose by converting nominalizations back to their verb forms and, in the process, often remove a be verb. Here are a few examples of nominalizations and adjustments that eliminate them:

  • The peace treaty led to a cessation of hostilities.

    The peace treaty ended the conflict.

  • The police conducted their investigation of the crime scene.

    The police investigated the crime scene.

  • As an indication of her dedication to the cause, Sally presented a donation of $10,000.

    Sally donated $10,000 to demonstrate her dedication to the cause.

Watching out for prepositions

Prepositions (of, with, in, for, and so on) are red flags for wordiness. When you convert a noun to a verb, you’re forced to add a prepositional phrase, as in the case of “cessation of hostilities” and “investigation of the crime scene.” Here are a few additional examples:

  • The opinion of the court is that the defendant be released.

    The court decided to release the defendant.

  • Please contact our office in a timely manner.

    Please contact our office promptly.

Purging phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs are two or more words that function as a verb and can usually be replaced with a single verb. For example, you can replace the phrasal verb “pick up on” with “sense.”

Replacing negatives with positive statements

You can often reduce wordiness simply by making a negative statement positive. Here’s an example:

  • If players do not show up with their gear, they will not be allowed to play.

  • Players must show up with their gear in order to play.