My English 100 professor should have been famous for her teaching. Sadly, she became famous for the way in which she died. Betty Belshaw was murdered in 1979; her husband was the prime suspect, although he was never convicted.

But let's not walk down that dark and ugly corridor. I prefer to remember Betty for her exuberance, passion for literature and for all that she taught me about writing. Betty was the person who introduced me to The Elements of Style  by William Strunk Jr., and E.B. White. The Bible of many an aspiring writer, this wonderful little book contains a short list of rules for writing.( Follow Here To Purchase The Elements of Style: 50th Anniversary Edition)

My favourite is: "Omit needless words."

While this counsel was particularly useful when I was a pompous political science student, the rule has stood me in good stead for almost 30 years. I particularly liked the way White singled out the expression "the fact that." "[It] should be revised out of every sentence in which it occurs," he wrote emphatically.

Other phrases that fall into the same category are:

until such time as

at the present time

by means of

for the purpose of

They are all wordy and mushy and have no place in your writing.

The advantage of scouring your writing for these phrases is simple. If you focus on a few phrases -- with the passion and precision a 16-year-old girl might devote to applying her lipstick -- your brain will start to become attuned to other unnecessary words. It's been said it takes 21 days to form a habit. I don't know about that, but I do know if you work on ridding your text of a few common needless phrases, you're likely to develop the habit of eliminating all needless words.

Pretty soon, you'll be a writer on a mission. What other wasted words are lurking in your writing? And how can you weed them out? With a little concentration, you can become your own editor.

And that would make Strunk, White -- and Betty Belshaw -- very happy.

P.S. It will make your readers happy, too.