Creating Concise Sentences

Learning Objective:

  • Employ editing techniques that lead to more concise and effective sentences.

William Strunk, famous for his guidelines on effective writing, made being conciseDescribes writing that only uses words that are necessary for clarity, meaning, and interest. one of his central principlesA fundamental belief that guides a person's behavior, or a law that describes the occurrence of natural phenomena.. "Omit needless words," he wrote. "Vigorous writing is concise." Strunk did not want every sentenceA group of words, phrases, or clauses that expresses a complete thought. A complete sentence has these characteristics: a capitalized first word, a subject and a predicate, and end punctuation, such as a period (.), question mark (?), or exclamation mark (!). to be short, but he wanted every word to "tell." That is, every word should have a purpose, and purposeless words should be cut.

It can be tempting to write more than necessary to ensure that your reader grasps your meaning or to bolster the appearance of expertise. But sentences with unnecessary words or information can confuse, mislead, or distract your reader. Employing editingThe process of improving a writing by reviewing content and making changes that affect its overall meaning and clarity. techniques to help you use only the words you need will enliven and clarify your writing and help you hold your reader's attention, making your sentences more effective.

In this lesson, you will learn nine ways to make your writing more concise.

  1. Avoid redundancy.

Phrases like "basic fundamentals" or "join together" are redundantIn writing, wordy or repetitious language, which gets in the way of making a point.; it is better to use one word or the other. For example, "The family planned to meet at twelve noon for lunch" can be changed to "The family planned to meet at noon for lunch" without any change in meaning.

  1. Replace multiple words with a single word.

When possible, change a phraseA set of words that express an idea. A phrase may or may not form a complete sentence. to single word. For example, "People who are skilled at knitting should skip Knitting 101" can be changed to "Skilled knitters should skip Knitting 101."

  1. Examine and delete unnecessary prepositional phrases.

Too many prepositional phrasesA group of words that starts with a preposition and ends with a noun. For example, in the prepositional phrase, At the desk, At is the preposition and the desk is the noun. can make your writing confusing. Look for ways to eliminate prepositional phrases without altering your ideas. For example: "The cause of the fire was because of the poor judgment of the owner" can be changed to "The owner's poor judgment caused the fire."

  1. Change passive voice to active voice.

PassiveOne of two styles of writing that compare the relationship between the subject and the verb in a sentence. In the passive voice, the action described by the verb is being done to the subject. A sentence in the passive voice always contains a state of being verb, such as am, is, was, were, or been. Example of passive voice: The plate was broken by the girl. sentences (where the objectA noun or pronoun in a sentence that receives the action performed by the subject. Example: The man ate the hamburger. In this case, the subject is the man and the object is the hamburger. comes first in the sentences) are always lengthier than activeOne of two styles of writing that compares the relationship between the subject and the verb in a sentence. In the active voice, the action described by the verb is done by the subject. These sentences have a clear subject taking a clear action. Example of the active voice: The girl broke the plate. sentences (where the subjectIn grammar, a part of speech that refers to the “doer” in the sentence (who or what). A subject is usually a person, place or thing. is performing the action). For example, "The paper was written by the student" can be changed to "The student wrote the paper."

(Note that in scientific writing and in some report writing, the passive voice is actually preferred and sometimes required. In most other writing, though, the active voice is best.)

  1. Delete clichés.

Most clichésA word, phrase, or situation that has been used so often that it has become dull and meaningless. do not add much to a sentence, so delete or replace them with more specific language when you can. For example, "Sally has to get up every morning at the crack of dawn," could be changed to "Sally has to get up early every morning."

  1. Change nouns into verbs.

To make a sentence more concise, look for ways to change wordy nounsA part of speech that refers to a person, place, or thing. Examples include: swimmer, lake, sunscreen. into verbsA part of speech that refers to what is happening, the action, what the subject is doing, or how it is “being.” Examples include: sleep, to be, think.. For example, "The professor gave a criticism of the artist’s work" can be changed to "The professor criticized the author’s work."

  1. Reconsider beginning with "There is" and "There are."

Using these two phrases are weak ways to begin a sentence; you can often rearrange the sentence to be stronger. For example, you can change "There are two children and a dog who live in that house" to "Two children and a dog live in that house."

  1. Avoid qualifiers.

Watch out for qualifiersWords or phrases that limit or modify the meaning of other words. The adverbs probably, frequently, rarely, may, mostly, slightly, and very are all qualifiers., which are adverbsWords that modify and describe a verb, adjective, or other adverb. Examples: quickly, awkwardly, lovingly. that show degrees of moderation, like somewhat, probably, really, generally, basically, and very. The difference between a sentence that uses them and that does not use them often is not great enough to warrant their use. For example, "It is a somewhat gray day" is not much different than "It is a gray day."

  1. Change negatives into affirmatives.

Changing cannot to can and other similar changes will reduce your wordiness. For example, "Students who have not taken the prerequisites for the course cannot enroll in the course" could be changed to "Students who have taken the prerequisites can enroll in the course."