Sunday, July 20, 2014

In the Name of Better Writing

We all know active voice is better than passive voice. But sometimes translating from one to the other isn't easy. Streamlining your writing to make it more active and less wordy helps you get to the point faster. Here are a few quick things to look for.

1. Take it easy on the prepositional phrases. 

A sentence full of them is difficult to read and might make your reader tune out. If a sentence is one long string of prepositional phrases, look for ways to get rid of some.

Example 1

The report is considered by many researchers to be of great importance for workers in that field. 
(4 prepositional phrases, passive construction)

Many researchers consider the report greatly important for workers in that field. 
(2 prepositional phrases, active construction)

Example 2
The effect of the announcement by the company on its stock price should not be underestimated by investors.
 (4 prepositional phrases, vague)

Investors should not underestimate how the company's announcement will affect its stock price.
 (no prepositional phrases)

2. Try to avoid "there is" and "it is."

Phrases like this signal lazy sentence construction. 

It is important for bicyclists to obey traffic laws at all times.
Bicyclists should always obey traffic laws.

There is disagreement among the authorities.
The authorities disagree.

3. Simplify wordy phrases and fussy words.

Many common words and phrases are more wordy or vague than they need to be. Everyone uses the words and phrases in this list on the left, but the options on the right are better and more specific.

Acceptable but wordy or vague  --  a better option
in order to  --  to
the majority of  --  most
Prior to  --  before
In advance of  --  before
A number of  --  numerous (or several, or a few)
Whether or not  --  whether
Subsequently  --  later
Upon  --  on 
Amidst  --  amid
Utilize  --  use
Effective  --  good (or something more specific, like efficient or persuasive)
In addition  --  also

4. Omit unnecessary words.

Do you need to say "in addition" or "as a result"? Maybe the context calls for it, but probably not. 

Example: Her car was totaled. As a result, she couldn't drive it.
Better: Her car was totaled, so she couldn't drive it.

It might be obvious that sentence 2 is a result of sentence 1.

Another phrase to watch for:
"In my opinion..."
If you're writing it, it's probably obvious that it's your opinion.

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