How to Avoid Circumlocution
In most cases, circumlocution is a symptom of bad writing. In these cases, it occurs because the author is not writing concisely enough and cannot come up with the right words to state her point directly. So the best way to avoid circumlocution is to learn concision (something that even professional writers struggle with)!
During the revising process, always hunt for places where you can replace a string of words with a single word (or at least a shorter string).
Original: I have a friend who is just not very reliable.
Edited: I have an unreliable friend.
Original: Lots of people don’t especially care for celebrity culture.
Edited: Many people dislike celebrity culture.
Original: We wrote a proposal for the purpose of funding the building’s renovations.
Edited: We wrote a proposal to fund the building’s renovations.
If you need extra practice, try this simple exercise: while writing, restrict yourself to writing shorter sentences, say of only six or eight words. While this is not good writing in itself (good writers vary the lengths of their sentences), it’s good practice since it will force you to express your thoughts concisely.
When to use Circumlocution
Ideally, you should never use circumlocutions in your writing. The only exception is when you think your readers cannot handle a direct confrontation with the topic under discussion, and that you need to sugar-coat it with a euphemism. However, this is rarely the case – unless you’re writing for very small children (and sometimes even then), you should trust your readers to handle the material that you need to discuss with them. Moreover, if a topic is beyond the maturity level of your readers, then it would be better not to discuss it at all, rather than employing a circumlocution.
Aside from that, even if you are using a euphemism it’s better to use a concise euphemism than a circumlocution! For example, “powder room” is a euphemism for “toilet,” but it’s not a circumlocution because it’s still very short and concise. The circumlocution “gentlemen’s rest room” is a long and clunky euphemism, and thus less useful than something shorter. Ironically, circumlocutions are often so long that they call attention to themselves, thus undermining the original purpose of the euphemism, which was to be discreet and subtle!
In short, there really is no good time to use a circumlocution in your own writing.
This does not apply, of course, to the way that characters speak! Many characters will use circumlocutions, especially politicians, in their natural speech or for some specific purpose.