Perhaps you’ve been told that your writing is wordy or that your heavy phrasing confuses your reader. Most writers face this problem of “overwriting.”  However, clear sentences are integral to clarity and facilitating your reader’s understanding. To ensure greater readability, try using the Paramedic Method described here.

The “Paramedic Method” is an easy, do-it yourself approach for eliminating unnecessary phrasing and repetitions.  Developed by UCLA Professor Richard Lanham (Revising Prose), this approach provides an effective way to reduce “overwriting.”  

Editing your writing using the Paramedic Method will improve clarity and directness of style. The Paramedic Method helps improve directness by eliminating unnecessary words. The Paramedic Method also helps you activate your sentences by eliminating passive voice and redundancies.  

The Paramedic Method: Follow these steps to improve the readability of your sentences.

  1. Underline the prepositions (of, in, about, for, onto, into): Prepositions are only “connecting words” linking nouns to other nouns or verbs; as a result, they add extra weight to your sentences.  
  2. Highlight/Bold the “to be” verb forms (is, are, was, were, etc.). Variations of “to be” can result in the passive voice and also force greater reliance on adjectives or adverbs. Use verbs intentionally to impact the clarity of your writing.
  3. Ask “Where’s the action?”  & Change the “action” into a strong verb. Use your thesaurus to help identify synonyms if you’re over-using the same verb.
  4. Identify the “real” subject of the sentence & make sure you’re using concrete language.
  5. Eliminate any unnecessary slow “wind-ups” or introductory phrases: introductory phrases delay the emphasis of the subject.
  6. Eliminate any redundancies.

Let’s Try It:

First, most would agree that the sentence below is wordy. The author’s intention of the article is to argue for the elimination of the passivity of the learner in college through using recent studies that show the value of collaborative learning in the classroom environment.

  1. Underline the prepositions (of, in, about, for, onto, into): 

The author’s intention of the article is to argue for the elimination of the passivity of the learner in college through using recent studies that show the value of collaborative learning in the classroom environment.

2. Highlight the “is” verb forms:
The author’s intention of the article is to argue for the elimination of the passivity of the learner in college through using recent studies that show the value of collaboration to promote active learning in the classroom environment.
3. Ask “Where’s the action?” & Revise as single verbs:
Intends for Intention, Argue,  Use, Show
4. Identify the subject of the sentence: The author
5. Eliminate any unnecessary slow “wind-ups” or introductory phrases.
The author intends to argue  can be quickly rephrased: The author argues

6.  Eliminate any redundancies from the text:

  • author’s intention of the article is to argue
  • elimination of passivity and active learning
  • that show and to promote

Final Revision: The author cites recent research and argues for collaboration as a way to eliminate passivity and stimulate classroom active learning.(Original Word Count = 35, Final Word Count = 20)

Here’s another example:

The new interpretations on canine aggressive behavior researched by Cesar Milano   are actually conceived by using a method that originally was used by Skinner and the early scholars in behaviorism. Using the Paramedic Method, note the heavy prepositions, identify the subject, the use of “to be,” any redundancies and unnecessary features to dewrite & revise: Cesar Millan uses Behaviorism in researching canine aggression. (Original word count: 30. New word count: 10).Here are a few more examples:Wordy sentences:

  1. The point I wish to make is that the employees working at this company are in need of a much better manager of their money.
  2. It is widely known that the engineers at Sandia Labs have become active participants in the Search and Rescue operations in recent years.
  3. After reviewing the results of your previous research, and in light of the relevant information found within the context of the study, there is ample evidence for making important, significant changes to our operating procedures.

Example Concise Solutions:

  1. Employees at this company need a better money manager. (Original word count: 26. New word count: 10).
  2. In recent years, engineers at Sandia Labs have participated in the Search and Rescue operations. (Original word count: 24. New word count: 16).
  3. After reviewing the results of your research, and within the context of the study, we find evidence supporting significant changes in our operating procedures. (Original word count: 36. New word count: 25).

Reference:   Lanham, R (2006). Revising prose, 5th Ed. Longman: New York.