As we continue our Clarity Clinic with 4 More Steps to Eliminate Wordiness, recall that our goal is to write sentences that can be read once and immediately understood.
1. Compress phrases with unnecessary words. Many of us remember school assignments requiring us to write 500-word essays, which, as we grew older, became 10-page papers. An unintended consequence of those assignments is our repertoire of wordy phrases: For example, Regardless of the fact that can be reduced to although; a sufficient number of can become enough; and during the time that can become while. Watch for opportunities to tighten similar wordy phrases that may appear in your own sentences.
2. Avoid overusing prepositions (words that show relationships of words) and prepositional phrases. Note how the edited sentence eliminates common prepositions such as by, for, from, in, into, of, off, on, to, and with.
Original sentence: The increase in investments by foreign nations is of concern to many economists.
Edited sentence: Increased foreign investments concern many economists.
3. Ensure that forms of the verb to be (am, is, are, was, were, been, being) do not cause wordiness. Also ensure that the main action of the sentence is expressed in the main verb—not in a noun. Notice the clarity of the edited sentence.
Original sentence: The company is engaged in the development of alternate energy sources.
Edited sentence: The company develops alternate energy sources.
4. Combine sentences that repeat elements. Look for repetition of words and ideas in consecutive sentences. If you use your thesaurus to replace a repeated word with a synonym, you simply camouflage the repetition. Instead, you can often combine two sentences that repeat elements. Doing so, be careful not to create sentences that are too long. Shorter sentences are easier to read and immediately understand that longer sentences.
Original sentences: We will hold a district meeting Tuesday, March 8. This meeting will be to discuss updates to the service manual. Please come prepared with your suggestions. You will be asked how to improve procedures.
Camouflaged repetition: We will hold a district meeting Tuesday, March 8. At this get-together we will discuss updates to the service manual. Please come prepared with your suggestions. You will be asked how to improve procedures.
Edited sentences: We will hold a district meeting Tuesday, March 8, to discuss updates to the service manual. Please come prepared with your suggestions to improve procedures
Now you have a chance to practice those 4 More Steps to Eliminate Wordiness in your on-the-job documents. You should immediately notice that your edited sentences are shorter and clearer. With fewer words, the sentences provide less opportunity to be misunderstood. In the next blog, we’ll explore how to use your computer’s Readability Statistics feature to gauge your sentences’ readability.
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