As you already know, plain Language is language that isn’t overly affected or ornate but simple. Below are some guidelines for reviving slow, dull, confusing, inactive sentences:
- Use Active Voice
- Limit Prepositional Phrases
- Get to the Point
- Limit to be Verb Forms
- Avoid Nominalizations
Although I would love to spend the entire semester just looking at sentences, time will not permit it. However, I do encourage those of you who wish to improve your communication further to check out Richard Lanham’s Revising Prose or a host of other style books that discuss more than grammar for revising one’s writing.
Style Books for Further Reading
In the arbitrary order of reader commitment necessary—least to greatest:
- Strunk, William Jr. and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. New York: MacMillan (various editions).
- Richardson, Peter. Style: A Pragmatic Approach. 2nd ed. New York: Longman. 2002.
- Zinsser, William. On Writing Well. New York: Harper (various editions).
- Williams, Joseph M. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. New York: Longman (various editions).
- Corbett, Edward P. J. and Robert J. Connors. Style and Statement. New York: Oxford UP. 1999.
- Kolln, Martha. Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects. New York: Allyn and Bacon (various editions).
Note: The above books assume that you, the writer, have some sophistication in Standard Edited American English. These are not handbooks like the late Diana Hacker’s guide A Writer’s Reference that discuss some style issues but are predominantly grammar/spelling/usage rulebooks.
Additionally, employing the strategies from the above books doesn’t exactly mean “better writing.” You can’t think of writing or effective communication as something that happens in a vacuum; you must consider context, audience, and purpose. There is no secret code to writing. Although we have rules, they are meaningless if one’s communication is irrelevant.
Assuming We Still Have Time…
Here are a few sentences to get us going. If it helps you, copy and paste the sentences in MS Word.
1. “I have reason to believe that there is a continuing presence of terrorists in this country.”
- Look for the long, unnecessary introduction
- Identify the prepositions
- Identify forms of to be
- Find inactive verbs or nouns that could be action verbs
2. “It is my belief that criminal charges were brought up based upon affidavits that were delivered to the Attorney General’s Office by the law enforcement agency that was charged to apprehend possible suspects.” –former US Attorney General John Ashcroft
Let’s see that again:
It is my belief
that criminal charges were brought up
based upon affidavits
that were delivered to the Attorney General’s Office
by the law enforcement agency
that was charged to apprehend possible suspects.
3. “You are being tasked / the responsibility for the creation of documents / needed to successfully allow our clients / to accurately obtain detailed queries / from the Datawarehouse / after the successful completion of a training session.”
What a piece of work!
for the creation
from the Datawarehouse
after the successful completion
of a training session
Remember, sentences in the real world usually come in context with other sentences. These guidelines are no exception for common sense or audience-specific requirements. Contextual factors will govern your writing decisions more than any rules (no matter how good the rules may be).
Look at these sentences for homework and come in next class with revisions, questions, and smiles. They ought to scare you at first, but examining them will also encourage you not to “dress up” your words unnecessarily.