Writing tip #5: eliminate ‘to, for and on’

Another in a series of writing tips from Of Is and By: how to be a better writer overnight.

Essential lesson #5: Everyone has specific writing mistakes they make repeatedly. The path to writing excellence means casting off these errors, once you identify them.

Due to English’s flexibility, to for and on can almost always be eliminated. At its most basic, here’s how it works: “The effect on the environment” can be “environmental effect.” “I gave the ball to John” can become “I gave John the ball.” “The house on Main Street” can become “the Main Street House.” It means exactly the same and is shorter, of course, and more compressed. Compress wherever possible.

Here are some examples:


Original and edit

  1. The College becomes the first post-secondary institution to provide nap rooms for students, available 24/7. Rooms are located in L Building at Lakeshore campus.
  2. The College becomes the first post-secondary institution to provide student nap rooms, available 24/7 in the Lakeshore campus’ L Building.


  • In moving “student” to before “nap rooms,” it eliminates the additional ‘for’ and means the same.
  • The sentences were merged, with “students” cut in the second reference. “L Building at Lakeshore Campus” can easily be rendered as the “Lakeshore campus’ L Building.”
  • This forgoes the more elaborate construction above and uses the possessive.


Try this sentence

  1. Unlike other yoga studios, memberships will include discounts to Lululemon stores, insight to new products, and free entrance to Lululemon events.
  2. Unlike other yoga studios, memberships will include Lululemon store discounts, new product insights, and free Lululemon events.


  • Memberships will include discounts to Lululemon stores – Change to: Memberships will include Lululemon store discounts
  • Insight to new products — New product insights
  • Free entrance to Lululemon events — Free Lululemon events.  

We’ve eliminated the word ‘to’ three times. It reads much better.


On is similar to the ‘to and for’ descriptions. It can be replaced easily with the word it indicates becomes a modifier. Here are some examples:

Original and edit

  1. In terms of location, Oregon is on the other side of the country, which provides more opportunity for awareness of Professor Rubin’s new book.
  2. Oregon, on the other side of the country, provides more opportunity for Professor Rubin’s new book.

Breaking it down…

  • In terms of location…this is one of those clauses that can almost always be edited out
    • It’s obvious that Oregon is a location
    • For ‘of, is and by’ devotees, the word “is” after Oregon should set off a red light.
    • “Is” must go.
    • “Awareness of Rubin’s new book” is the same as “more opportunity for Rubin’s book.”
    • Awareness equals opportunity.

Next example

Original and edit

  1. Competition will be between oil-rich provinces and those who are dependent on manufacturing.
  2. Competition will be between oil-rich and manufacturing-dependent provinces.


  • Both “oil-rich” and manufacturing dependent here refer to “”
  • Getting rid of “those who are dependent on manufacturing” eliminates five words, always a plus in good writing!

The tip:  this one’s easy — search for to, for and on, and see if you can edit them out. 

Author: Ricardo's Gelato

ricardosgelato.com, rotmanprwriter

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