Simplify your writing to make it more effective Theresa Bell Writing Centre Coordinator Royal Roads University
Think before you write Consider: • Who is your audience? • What language would your audience use? • What do you want your audience to understand? • What do you want your audience to do?
Start the sentence with the subject and verb Locate the subject and verb of a sentence at the beginning of the sentence. • “Mutual understanding between parties in dispute and solutions that integrate the needs of each party are at the heart of transformative and inclusive conflict management practices.” • Transformative and inclusive conflict management practices develop a mutual understanding between parties in dispute and solutions that integrate the needs of each party.
Keep sentences short and focused General guide for sentence length: 25 words • Remember your reader may not be as familiar with the topic as you are • Focus on the sentence’s main point so it’s easy for your reader to know what is important • “However, one thing we did not initially consider, but that negatively skewed our forum participation data, is the fact that students were subscribed to the library forum in what Moodle calls “forced subscription” mode, meaning they automatically received emails of all posts to that forum.” (45 words) • Students were force-subscribed to the library forum and automatically received emails of all posts, which negatively skewed our forum participation data. (22 words)
Use simple language Your goal is to communicate, not confuse. • “When the process of freeing a stuck vehicle that has been stuck results in ruts or holes, the operator will fill the rut or hole created by such activity before removing the vehicle from the immediate area.“ • “If you make a hole while freeing a stuck vehicle, you must fill the hole before you drive away.”
Delete non-essential descriptors Adjective = a word that describes a noun Adverb = a word that describes a verb “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice” (Mark Twain). • I eagerly await your thoughtful reply and happily anticipate our next illuminating conversation. • I’m looking forward to your reply and our next conversation.
Delete unnecessary qualifiers Qualifier: “a word (such as an adjective or adverb) or phrase that describes another word or group of words”.E.g., very, actually, really, quite, basically, probably, definitely, somewhat, kind of, extremely, practically. • “Because a great many of the words in this sentence are basically unnecessary, it would really be a very good idea to edit somewhat for conciseness.” • I should edit the sentence because many of the words are unnecessary.
Delete redundancies Redundant pairs: full and complete, each and every, hopes and dreams, whole entire, first and foremost, true and accurate, always and forever. Redundant statements: • This was the first time they hadever had a librarian participate in their online courses. • “First time” means never before, therefore “ever” is redundant • This was the first time a librarian participated in their online courses.
Avoid vague pronouns Vague pronoun = using “it”, “this”, “that”, or other pronouns to refer to a previously-mentioned noun • “It also likely explains why there is higher uptake in these three specific knowledge areas over others.“ (What is “it”?) • “This means that forced subscription negates the need for students to go into to the forum to read the content. “ (What is “this”?)
Check for passive voice Active sentence: the subject comes first Passive sentence: the object (the thing that is receiving the action) comes first; the subject appears at the end of the sentence or isn’t included at all. Detecting passive voice: check the primary verb, and if there’s a form of “be” (am, is, are, was, were) and a past tense verb (many end with -ed), the sentence may be passive. Why is passive voice a problem? • Tends to be wordier • May not provide necessary information (e.g., who is the actor of the action?) • Training was conducted and participants were evaluated. • The trainers provided instruction and evaluated the participants.
Proofread • Read out loud (slowly enough that someone else could understand you) • Read word-for-word backwards to catch spelling errors • Read sentence-by-sentence backwards to check grammar • Microsoft Word’s grammar and style check • Writer’s Diet Test
Questions? http://library.royalroads.ca/writing-centre http://writeanswers.royalroads.ca 250-391-2600, ext. 4353