Sentence Style Wrap-Up

...after millions of unneeded words deleted

These chapters are best viewed using Firefox. Internet Explorer causes misalignments and bad formatting. — David McMurrey


Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, from the 15th illuminated manuscript.

If you have made your pilgrimage through most or all the chapters of this book and now have arrived at this final destination, congratulations—or, perhaps, condolences. If you have developed a sharp eye for sentence-style problems and a talent for fixing them, you are now dangerous. Like the fists of a boxer, your revision skills should now be registered as dangerous weapons. You could topple an entire government agency—reducing its word count to practically nothing!

But seriously, having a sharp eye for sentence-style problems may not be such a pleasant thing to possess. You might become like those obsessive English teachers who can't keep from correcting everything—even graffiti! You might have to stifle your acquired talent at your workplace—or else management and peers might move your desk out to the parking garage.

Review of Sentence-Style Problems

Here is a review of the sentence-style problems you have studied in the chapters of this book:

Action-verb separations. The true action of the sentence is not expressed in the grammatical verb slot:

Problem: The company has made improvements in its technical support program.

Revision: The company has improved its technical support program.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on action-verb separations.

Character-subject separations. The true character of the sentence is not expressed in the grammatical subject slot:

Problem: Improvements have been made by the company in its technical support program.

Revision: The company has improved its technical support program.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on character-subject separations.

Sentence-style choices:
All of the potential problems listed here and presented in the chapters of this book are not errors—they represent legitimate choices that you have as a writer.

Passive voice. The true character of the sentence is flipped to the end of the sentence, or not stated at all:

Problem: A God who certainly did not play dice was envisioned by Einstein.

Revision: Einstein envisioned a God who certainly did not play dice.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on passive voice.

Wordiness and redundancy. Wordy set phrases and redundancies increase word count and seriously reduce clarity and directness:

Problem: At this point in time, our time schedules do not allow or permit further or additional work tasks.

Revision: Our schedules are full!

For the full discussion, see the chapter on wordiness and redundancy.

Expletives. Variations of the simple it is or there is add unnecessary words to sentences:

Problem: There are "acidic" and "basic" extremes that describe chemicals, just like there are hot and cold extremes that describe temperature.

Revision: Acidic and basic are two extremes that describe chemicals, just like hot and cold are two extremes that describe temperature.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on expletives.

Noun stacks. Nouns are piled up together creating a mind-numbing effect that jeopardizes comprehension and sometimes ironically increases word count:

Problem: The consultant recommends management performance improvement incentives.

Revision: The consultant recommends incentives to improve management performance.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on noun stacks.


The road to Canterbury

Awkward, wordy, perplexing negatives. Expressing ideas in the negative can cause wordiness and comprehension problems:

Problem: Public-school education cannot be improved if tax increases specifically for education are not introduced.

Revision: Public-school education can be improved if tax increases specifically for education are introduced.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on awkward, wordy, perplexing negatives.

Wordy hedging. Some writing seems terrified about making any definitive assertion:

Problem: There seems to be some evidence to suggest that certain differences between Israeli and Arabic world views may be part of the problem, to some extent.

Revision: Differences between Israeli and Arabic world views may be part of the problem.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on wordy hedging.

Wordy metadiscourse. Some writing spends too much time explaining what it is going to and not just doing it:

Problem: The following article intends to address the problem of the reasons for the failure of the war on drugs in the twentieth century.

Revision: In the twentieth century, the war on drugs failed.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on wordy metadiscourse.

Choppy writing. Some writing is marked by annoying sequences of short simple sentences, creating a herky-jerky effect and causing comprehension problems:

Problem: The gas pressure is exerted on the fluid. This reduces the creation of air bubbles. It also reduces the creation of foaming.

Revision: The gas pressure is exerted on the fluid which reduces the creation of air bubbles and foaming.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on choppy writing.

Weak coordination. When some compound sentences are joined by and (or other coordinating conjunctions), the real relationship between the two clauses can be obscured:

Problem: The author evaluates the the status of SETI, and he considers whether it is a serious scientific enterprise.

Revision: The author evaluates the the status of SETI as a serious scientific enterprise.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on weak coordination.

Sentence-style Problems:
All of the sentence-style choices listed here and presented in the chapters of this book, while representing legitimate choices that you have as a writer, can become sentence-style problems if they are not used wisely.

Word-phrase-clause problems. You can add more detail or you can be more succinct by choosing to express an idea in a word, a phrase, or a clause:

Problem: Proponents of this theory are not concerned with the location of power and authority.

Revision: Proponents of this theory are not concerned with where power and authority are located.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on word-phrase-clause problems.

Long introductions. Comprehension problems arise when too many words stack up in front of the main clause:

Problem: Because scientists have discovered that many stars are accompanied by planets and because they have detected organic material in the circumstellar disks from which planets are created, they believe that there are many more potential sites for life than previously thought.

Revision: Scientists have discovered that many stars are accompanied by planets, and they have detected organic material in the circumstellar disks from which planets are created. Therefore, they believe that there are many more potential sites for life than previously thought.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on long introductions.

Long interruptions. Comprehension problems arise when too many words interrupt the core grammar of a sentence:

Problem: Nevertheless, SETI, operating at a level comparable to the context of discovery in scientific research where rules are more loosely applied and where the short-term objective is the plausibility of its hypotheses not their certitude, is deeply committed to current scientific standards.

Revision: SETI operates at a level comparable to the context of discovery in scientific research where rules are more loosely applied and where the short-term objective is the plausibility of its hypotheses not their certitude. Nevertheless, SETI is deeply committed to current scientific standards.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on long introductions.

Pompous word choice. Using "five-dollar words" when "fifty-cent words" will do can cause comprehension problems—as well as doubts about the writer:

Problem: The somnolent characteristics of your peroration mollified the antagonistic predilections of many in attendance.

Revision: Your boring speech softened the opposition of many in attendance.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on pompous word choice.

Overly long sentences. Sentences that soar way beyond the 22-word upper average can cause serious comprehension problems:

Problem: Literally, sustainable development refers to maintaining development over time, although by the early 1990s, more than 70 definitions of sustainable development were in circulation, definitions that are important, despite their number, because they are the basis on which the means for achieving sustainable development in the future can be built.

Revision: Literally, sustainable development refers to maintaining development over time. However, by the early 1990s, more than 70 definitions of sustainable development were in circulation. Despite their number, these definitions are important because they are the basis on which the means for achieving sustainable development in the future can be built.

For the full discussion, see the chapter on overly long sentences.

But never ever forget: The preceding are not just sentence-style problems—they are also sentence-style choices. Not a single one of these sentence-style choices is fundamentally, intrinsically wrong. Each chapter has outlined when and why these sentence-style choices can be useful and effective.


Canterbury

Practice

The following set of exercises ask you to revise excerpts in which multiple types of sentence-style problems occur. The exercises are ask you to identify the type of sentence-style problem that you revise. It's the notion that if you have a name for it, you can recognize it!


Return to the table of contents


Information and programs provided by hcexres@prismnet.com.