How long can you go on writing without using of? You’ll quickly find that it’s an invaluable word, but writers often take it for granted, and its repeated use is a sure sign of prolixity.
Of is a preposition, a word positioned before its object: In “a stroke of luck,” for example, of is the preposition of luck. We rely on such constructions often — and, in moderation, they’re perfectly acceptable — but we can easily overuse them. Fortunately, they’re (usually) easily revised: For example, with a few strokes of the pen (or a few taps on the keyboard), “a stroke of luck” becomes “a lucky stroke.”
The formula is easy — just convert the second noun in a “(noun) of (noun)” phrase to an adjective and move the first noun after the adjective. But such a strategy isn’t always elegant: “A pen’s stroke” might appeal to a computer seeking the most concise, efficient phrasing, but it is jarring to a human mind, which prefers “a stroke of the pen.”
One’s goal, however, should be to reduce, not eliminate, use of of: After you’ve written a document, search for of, and if you find that you have used it more than once in a sentence or several times in a paragraph, consider revising one or more phrases in which it appears.
For example, a sentence with an in-line list, such as “Information theory has been crucial in the invention of the compact disc, the technology of mobile phones, and the development of the Internet” can be revised to “Information theory has been crucial in the invention of the compact disc, the technology behind mobile phones, and the Internet’s development.”
Note, however, that of is sometimes mistakenly omitted: “He took a couple days off” is acceptable in casual writing, but “He took a couple of days off” is correct, and regardless should always be followed by of, as in “I’m supporting her regardless of whether she’s right or wrong” (though “regardless of” is redundant to whether and might better be eliminated from the sentence).
This post lists some wordy prepositional phrases that can be easily replaced by single words or shorter phrases, and this one suggests strategies for achieving more concise writing by avoiding prepositional phrases altogether.