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Reducing Clutter with Adverbs & Sentence Combining

Tightening up prose is necessary when reading it feels labored or dull. After the tightening up, it feels, well, tight and spry.

Tell me which sentence sounds better to you:

“The students filtered down the main staircase with an extra exuberance in their steps.”


“The students filtered down the main staircase exuberantly.”

I am strongly inclined towards the latter, which replaces a cluttered prepositional (adjective) phrase with a mere one word adverb, exuberantly. It feels more “clean” and precise somehow.

Often wordy phrases and even entire sentences can be obliterated and replaced with an adverb.

Sentence combining is another great technique to reduce cluttered writing. Consider this example:

“The cafeteria was abuzz with activity. The students talked excitedly with each other.”


“The cafeteria was abuzz with the students’ excited chatter.”

The adverb became an adjective because it just worked better. The second sentence is obviously superior to the first. There’s nothing wrong with long sentences or drawn out description per se. But sometimes you have an intuitive sense that you are drawing something out that needs to be compacted.

You have to put your ego to the side and ask yourself whether your writing is wordy, reading your own work as though you did not write it. In this way, you sympathize with someone else who is reading your work. Have mercy on them!

This applies to essays and expository writing as well as fiction prose. Students are notorious for beginning declarative sentences with “I think” or “I believe.” I cross it out.

Get to the point!

You have to turn a critical eye towards your own writing. It is easy to discern between professional writing that has been edited by someone who knows their stuff and amateurish writing. One of the indicators is a sense that you feel of “get to the point.”

This impatient feeling is elicited by writing that is uneven and unsymmetrical. This is where reducing clutter is so crucial. The good news is that it can be fixed quite easily, so long as you are willing to admit the problem.

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