Writing is hard work, whether you’re writing an email, a grocery list, the Great American Novel, a non-fiction book, or anything at all. Some things we write don’t need much editing, but almost everything can use some (cross off those cookies on that grocery list—you know you’re on a diet!).

In today’s world of more and more to read, from books to periodicals and from computer screen to cell phone screen, the way we write can have a huge impact on others understanding what we’re trying to say. The better it’s written, the more people will read.

One way to make your writing better is to cut out every extraneous word and phrase.

Where do you find these words and phrases? Here’s a quick list:

  • Get rid of the word “that” if doing so won’t hurt.
  • Get rid of excess modifiers—adjectives and adverbs. You can spot them easily if you look for words ending in “ly.” There are others that don’t end in “ly,” but they’re the fastest to spot. Try to substitute the modifier with a stronger, more descriptive noun or verb. If you don’t know exactly what these parts of speech are, bush up on your grammar because this is vitally important if you want to be a published author.
  • Watch for trailing prepositional phrases. These are often three-word phrases at the end of sentences that turn out to be unnecessary.

If you do only these three things, your writing will improve dramatically. And don’t worry, if you do it enough times, you will begin to write leaving out the excess “thats,” modifiers and prepositional phrases automatically as you go. Try it and see.