Writing Concise Sentences : English Glossary
Writing Concise Sentences : English Glossary
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Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
— William Strunk Jr.
in Elements of Style
Whether it's a two-word quip or a 200-word bear, a sentence must be a lean, thinking machine. Here are some notes toward efficiency and conciseness in writing.
PRUNING THE REDUNDANT
Avoid saying the same thing twice.
Many uneducated citizens
who have never attended school continue to vote for better schools.
A phrase that repeats itself—like "true fact," "twelve noon," "I saw it with my own eyes"—is sometimes called a pleonasm.
Redundant phrases are bad habits just waiting to take control of your writing. Beware of the following.
|Redundancy||The Lean Version|
|3 am in the morning||3 am|
|a person who is honest||an honest person|
|a total of 14 birds||14 birds|
|biography of her life||biography|
|consensus of opinion||consensus|
|each and every||each|
|exactly the same||the same|
|frank and honest exchange||frank exchange or honest exchange|
|he/she is a person who . . .||he/she|
|in spite of the fact that||although|
|in the field of economics/law enforcement||in economics/law enforcement|
|in the event that||if|
|job functions||job or functions|
|one and the same||the same|
|period of four days||four days|
|personally, I think/feel||I think/feel|
|puzzling in nature||puzzling|
|shorter/longer in length||shorter/longer|
|small/large in size||small/large|
|square/round/rectangular in shape||square/round/rectangular|
|surrounded on all sides||surrounded|
|the future to come||the future|
|there is no doubt but that||no doubt|
|we are in receipt of||we have received|
A special breed of redundancy is proliferating in our modern world as we increasingly rely on abbreviations and acronyms in the busyness of our technology. Some people insist it is redundant to say "ATM machine" because ATM means Automated Teller Machine. They add that it is redundant to say "HIV virus" because HIV means Human Immunodeficiency Virus, "AIDS syndrome" because AIDS means Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome, "CPU unit" because CPU means Central Processing Unit. It sounds particularly silly when we come up with a plural such as "CPU units" — Central Processing Unit units. It is perhaps too easy to get caught up in this, however. "CD disk" can be redundant, but nowadays the abbreviation CD can refer to a number of things, including the machine itself. Occasionally, an abbreviation — like CD, ATM — becomes more of an idea unto itself than a shortened version for a set of words, and the abbreviation ought to be allowed to act as modifier.
Reducing Clauses to Phrases, Phrases to Single Words
Be alert for clauses or phrases that can be pared to simpler, shorter constructions. The "which clause" can often be shortened to a simple adjective. (Be careful, however, not to lose some needed emphasis by over-pruning; the word "which," which is sometimes necessary [as it is in this sentence], is not evil.)
- Smith College, which was founded in 1871, is the premier all-women's college in the United States.
- Founded in 1871, Smith College is the premier all-women's college in the United States.
- Citizens who knew what was going on voted him out of office.
- Knowledgeable citizens voted him out of office.
- Recommending that a student copy from another student's paper is not something he would recommend.
- He wouldn't recommend that a student copy from another student's paper.
(Or "He would never tell a student to copy . . . .")
Phrases, too, can sometimes be trimmed, sometimes to a single word.
- Unencumbered by a sense of responsibility, Jasion left his wife with forty-nine kids and a can of beans.
- Jasion irresponsibly left his wife with forty-nine kids and a can of beans.
(Or leave out the word altogether and let the act speak for itself.)
Intensifiers that Don't Intensify
Avoid using words such as really, very, quite, extremely, severely when they are not necessary. It is probably enough to say that the salary increase is inadequate. Does saying that it is severely inadequate introduce anything more than a tone of hysteria? These words shouldn't be banished from your vocabulary, but they will be used to best effect when used sparingly.
Avoiding Expletive Constructions
This sounds like something a politician has to learn to avoid, but, no, an expletive construction is a common device that often robs a sentence of energy before it gets a chance to do its work. Expletive constructions begin with there is/are or it is.
- There are twenty-five students who have already expressed a desire to attend the program next summer. It is they and their parents who stand to gain the most by the government grant.
- Twenty-five students have already expressed a desire to attend the program next summer. They and their parents stand to gain the most by the government grant.
Phrases You Can Omit
Be on the lookout for important sounding phrases that add nothing to the meaning of a sentence. Such phrases quickly put a reader on guard that the writer is trading in puffery; worse, they put a reader to sleep.
|all things considered||All things considered, Connecticut's woodlands are in better shape now than ever before.|
All things considered, Connecticut's woodlands are in better shape now than ever before.
|as a matter of fact||As a matter of fact, there are more woodlands in Connecticut now than there were in 1898.|
as a matter of fact, There are more woodlands in Connecticut now than there were in 1898.
|as far as I'm concerned||As far as I'm concerned, there is no need for further protection of woodlands.|
As far as I'm concerned, there Further
protection of woodlands is not needed.
|at the present time||This is because there are fewer farmers at the present time.|
This is because there are fewer farmers now.
|because of the fact that||Woodlands have grown in area because of the fact that farmers have abandoned their fields.|
Woodlands have grown in area because farmers have abandoned their fields.
|by means of||Major forest areas are coming back by means of natural processes.|
Major forest areas are coming back through natural processes. (or naturally)
|by virtue of the fact that||Our woodlands are coming back by virtue of the fact that our economy has shifted its emphasis.|
Our woodlands are coming back
by virtue of the fact that because our economy has shifted its emphasis.
|due to the fact that||Due to the fact that their habitats are being restored, forest creatures are also re-establishing their population bases.|
Due to the fact that Because their habitats are being restored, forest creatures are also re-establishing their population bases.
|exists||The fear that exists among many people that we are losing our woodlands is uncalled for.|
that exists among many people that we are losing our woodlands is uncalled for.
|for all intents and purposes||The era in which we must aggressively defend our woodlands has, for all intents and purposes, passed.|
The era in which we must aggressively defend our woodlands has
, for all intents and purposes, passed.
|for the most part||For the most part, people's suspicions are based on a misunderstanding of the facts.|
For the most part, pPeople's suspicions are based on a misunderstanding of the facts.
|for the purpose of||Many woodlands, in fact, have been purchased for the purpose of creating public parks. |
Many woodlands, in fact, have been purchased
for the purpose of creating as public parks.
|have a tendency to||This policy has a tendency to isolate some communities.|
has a tendency tends to isolate some communities.
|in a manner of speaking||The policy has, in a manner of speaking, begun to Balkanize the more rural parts of our state.|
The policy has
, in a manner of speaking, begun to Balkanize the more rural parts of our state.
|in a very real sense||In a very real sense, this policy works to the detriment of those it is supposed to help.|
In a very real sense, this This policy works to the detriment of those it is supposed to help.
|in my opinion||In my opinion, this wasteful policy ought to be revoked.|
In my opinion, thisThis wasteful policy ought to be revoked.
|in the case of ||In the case of this particular policy, citizens of northeast Connecticut became very upset.|
Citizens of northeast Connecticut became very upset about his policy.
|in the final analysis||In the final analysis, the state would have been better off without such a policy.|
In the final analysis, the The state would have been better off without such a policy.
|in the event that||In the event that enough people protest, it will probably be revoked.|
If enough people protest, it will probably be revoked.
|in the nature of||Something in the nature of a repeal may soon take place.|
in the nature of like a repeal may soon take place.
|in the process of||Legislators are already in the process of reviewing the statutes.|
Legislators are already
in the process of reviewing the statutes.
|it seems that||It seems that they can't wait to get rid of this one.|
It seems that they They can't wait to get rid of this one.
|manner||They have monitored the activities of conservationists in a cautious manner.|
They have cautiously monitored the activities of conservationists.
|the point I am trying to make||The point I am trying to make is that sometimes public policy doesn't accomplish what it set out to achieve.|
The point I am trying to make is that someSometimes public policy doesn't accomplish what it set out to achieve.
|type of||Legislators need to be more careful of the type of policy they propose.|
Legislators need to be more careful of the
type of policy they propose.
|what I mean to say is||What I mean to say is that well intentioned lawmakers sometimes make fools of themselves.|
What I mean to say is that well Well intentioned lawmakers sometimes make fools of themselves. |