Skip to content

How Fast Can You Edit?

Each of the wordy phrases below can be replaced by one word. How fast can you edit them?

Note: For some phrases such as “during the course of,” you may need to imagine a sentence to help you recognize a one-word version.

  1. in a consistent manner
  2. most of the time
  3. on a frequent basis
  4. subsequent to
  5. prior to that time
  6. a greater number of
  7. in a timely fashion
  8. is of the opinion that
  9. consensus of opinion
  10. sum total
  11. is in a position to
  12. exactly identical
  13. refer back
  14. is in the process of
  15. may possibly
  16. during the course of
  17. due to the fact that
  18. at the present time
  19. just recently
  20. during the time that

Could you quickly replace the wordy phrases? Did any of them stump you?

Recently a middle-school boy got lots of media attention when his science fair project won first place: He recommended that the U.S. government change to the Garamond font to save money by using less ink. His theory was debunked because of issues of font thickness. However, perhaps his next project can demonstrate how the government can save ink by using fewer words. We plain language advocates will certainly support him!



Posted by Avatar photo
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

22 comments on “How Fast Can You Edit?”

  • Dear Lynn,

    Hope you are doing well.

    I am Afghan, 26, a struggling and practicing second language professional writer.

    I regularly read and practice your slightly packed giant articles. This one, I have printed and pinned adjacent to my table.

    You are a highly valued free tutor to me and I really wish you a very happy and healthy life to keep feeding us with most wanted knowledge.

    Best Regards

  • a consistent manner – consistently
    2.most of the time – mostly
    3.on a frequent basis – frequently
    4.subsequent to – subsequently
    5.prior to that time – priory
    6.a greater number of – plentiful a timely fashion – appropriate of the opinion that – belief
    9.consensus of opinion – agreement
    10.sum total – total in a position to – ready
    12.exactly identical – duplicate
    13.refer back – reply in the process of – procedure
    15.may possibly – maybe/perhaps
    16.during the course of – throughout
    17.due to the fact that – as the present time – currently/presently
    19.just recently – recently
    20.during the time that – then

  • Muhammad,

    As another reader of Lynn’s blog (and one who is an editor by trade), I’d like to suggest the following changes to your answers above:

    5. prior to that time – before
    6. a greater number of – more
    7. in a timely fashion – timely
    8. is of the opinion that – thinks
    9. consensus of opinion – consensus (although agreement works, too)
    11. is in a position to – is
    12. exactly identical – identical
    13. refer back – refer
    14. is in the process of – is
    15. may possibly – may (or “possibly” by itself, also)
    16. during the course of – during (throughout is also correct)
    17. due to the fact that – because (your answer, “as,” is also okay)
    20. during the time that – while

    Of course, editing these phrases does depend on their context within a sentence, as Lynn said, and different people might imagine different sentences. I tried to keep one of the original words when editing the list–often, the extra word adds little, if anything, to the statement, and sometimes either of the words is fine, as I noted in some of the answers. (Another example: I know folks who would write “often times” instead of just “often” in the previous sentence, out of habit.)

    In any case, I hope this helps, and good luck to you!


  • Great Friday morning exercise! I got hung up on a few, particularly 10, 19, and 20. And I refrained from peeking, though as tempted as I was.

    1. in a consistent manner – consistently
    2. most of the time – often
    3. on a frequent basis – frequently
    4. subsequent to – subsequently
    5. prior to that time – previously
    6. a greater number of – additional
    7. in a timely fashion – promptly
    8. is of the opinion that – believes
    9. consensus of opinion – unanimous
    10. sum total – result
    11. is in a position to – prepared
    12. exactly identical – synomomous
    13. refer back – reference
    14. is in the process of – currently
    15. may possibly – likely
    16. during the course of – amidst
    17. due to the fact that – consequently
    18. at the present time – presently
    19. just recently – recently
    20. during the time that – while

  • Hi, Muhammad, Christie, and Chris. I am glad you took the test. Rather than respond to each of your lists, I have shown my revisions here:

    1. in a consistent manner–consistently

    2. most of the time–usually

    3. on a frequent basis–frequently

    4. subsequent to–after

    5. prior to that time–before

    6. a greater number of–more

    7. in a timely fashion–promptly (or quickly, timely, etc.)

    8. is of the opinion that–thinks

    9. consensus of opinion–consensus

    10. sum total–total

    11. is in a position to–can

    12. exactly identical–identical

    13. refer back–refer

    14. is in the process of–is

    15. may possibly–may

    16. during the course of–during

    17. due to the fact that–because

    18. at the present time–now

    19. just recently–recently (or just)

    20. during the time that–while

    Our answers may differ. I tried to replace the phrase with either a word within it or a clearer word. Also, I imagined a sentence with the wordy phrase in it so that my revision would be in the same structure.

    Thanks for testing yourselves!


  • Lynn, this is an excellent post! I want to print it out and post it in my cubicle for all to see.

    My favorites are #11 and #14- I love how you reduced whole phrases to two or three letters!

  • Thank you, Lynn and contributors. This has a been an interesting exercise for me because my mother tongue is Spanish. Being straight forward or cutting on words is considered rude and uneducated in the Latin world; therefore, I always look for the wordiest way to say things. I am glad to know that less is more.

  • Thanks a lot Lynn for your courageous reply; I am really feeling more productive and more efficient.

    I am so sorry for late reply. After this, I will be using my personal email ID for your blog to follow more actively.

    Muhammad Daud

  • #20 is quite often “when,” not while.
    #12 may also be “check” rather than “refer back (to)” (Let me refer back to the rules= Let me check the rules.)
    #9 is often better as “agree” rather than “consesus.”
    “Our consensus is that…” is often crispier written as “we agree that…”

    All the other edits, I agree with.

  • Hi, Ken. I like the way you think!

    I decided to use “issues of” because the debunking made it seem rather complex, with different thicknesses for different font sizes. That’s why I hesitated to be as concise as you suggest. Again, I like your thinking, and I could be persuaded.


  • Hi

    I’d just like to note that #11, ‘in a timely fashion’, cannot simply be replaced with ‘timely’: ‘timely’ is almost always an adjective, whereas the phrase requires replacement with an adverbial modifier. So ‘I need you to act in a timely fashion’ cannot become ‘I need you to act timely’; ‘promptly’ is much the better option.

  • Hi Gavin,

    I thought the same thing you do–until I worked with a variety of accounting and audit teams. In those circles “timely” is often used as an adverb.

    I agree that “promptly” is a better choice in most business writing. You have prompted me to change the order of my list of adverbs for “in a timely fashion.”

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *