The Three Deadly Sins

Eliminate weak, wasted, and redundant words.

Here’s how Gary Provost, who invented this framework defines them: Redundant words say the same thing twice, wasted ones don’t serve a purpose, and weak ones lack meaning. 

Weak words are like the difference between high-end sushi restaurants and American chains, where quantity is a signal of quality. For example, the 4.5 star rated on Yelp TexMex restaurant I recently dined at in Texas had a mediocre steak with sides of chips, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, cheese, sour cream, plantains, guacamole, rice, queso dip, and even more chips to go with the main course. All of it was meh, I didn’t even come close to finishing my food. A week earlier, a friend treated me to the finest sushi in Austin. Each dish was sourced from the finest fish markets, so the sushi was as small as it was flavorful and served a-la-carte. 

Two ways to remove weak words: 

  • Don’t write “Eddie was a kind, generous, and thoughtful person” when you can call him a “saint.”

  • Don’t write “He passed away early in the morning, and people all over America cried” when you can write “He died at dawn and the nation wept.” 

Wasted words slow the momentum of your writing. They’re like a pointless movie scene which makes you want to shout at the television and say: “Get to the point!” Eliminate wasted words by tapping your delete key more and moving your fingertips less. In writing, they come in the form of overused phrases such as “in the event of” (if); “on the occasion of” (when); “owing to the fact that” (because); “for a period of a month” (for a month). When you can combine multiple words into a single one, do it.

Redundant words are like a restaurant where the hostess tells you the specials, before your waiter repeats the same spiel at your table. There’s no reason to repeat them, unless they’re uniquely complicated. In writing, your prose becomes redundant when you repeat something that’s already been communicated. As Gary Provost wrote: “Baby puppies” is redundant. A “little midget” would be redundant, as would a “big giant,” a “long-necked giraffe,” or “six a.m. in the morning.” “Red in color” is redundant because a thing can’t be red in size, shape, or age.” 

You can avoid these three deadly sins by compressing your sentences. If you can reduce ten words to five without altering the meaning of your sentences, do it. For a more intuitive approach, you can also improve your writing by writing entire sections from memory or talking about your ideas.

Cover Photo by Luigi Pozzoli on Unsplash

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