Fat-free writing (more on plain English)

Plain English Guidelines: Keep sentences short

from cartoonstock.com

Over the whole document, make average sentence length 15 to 20 words. Muddle is more likely in a long sentence, unless the construction is simple and well-organised. Learning to cut repetition and verbiage, using lists and headings properly, and shortening sentences can make the world of difference to your writing.

For example:

(1) Split and disconnect—Full stops enable readers to digest your latest point and prepare for the next. Compare these two statements:

  • I understand that some doctors making night calls have been attacked in recent months on the expectation that they were carrying drugs and their caution when visiting certain areas in the south of the city has been very exacting and has even included telephoning the address to be visited from their car when they arrive outside the house.
  • I understand that some doctors making night calls have been attacked in recent months on the expectation that they were carrying drugs. Their caution when visiting certain areas in the south of the city has been very exacting. It has even included telephoning the address to be visited from their car when they arrive outside the house.

(2) Say less – Sometimes a sentence is lengthened by needless repetition. Compare these two letters:

Dear Sirs

Trial of John Smith and James Jackson

Trade Descriptions Act 1968, Manchester Crown Court, 10.30 a.m.

Tuesday 7 June 2000

The above defendants are to be tried at Manchester Crown Court on Tuesday 7 June 2000 at 10.30 a.m. for several offences under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 concerning the supply of motor vehicles to which false trade descriptions had been applied.

Dear Sirs

Trial of John Smith and James Jackson

Trade Descriptions Act 1968, Manchester Crown Court, 10.30 a.m.

Tuesday 7 June 2000

The above defendants are to be tried for several offences concerning the supply of motor vehicles to which false trade descriptions had been applied.

Source: Oxford Dictionaries Online

Fat-free writing

Some words add instant girth to your writing and slow readers to a crawl. The problem? Noun* Addiction.

Too many nouns:

  • “The effect of the overuse of nouns in writing is the placing of excessive strain upon the inadequate number of verbs and resultant prevention of the flow of thought.” [29 words]
  • Nouns changed to verbs: “Using too many nouns in writing strains verbs and prevents the flow of thought.” [14 words]

See how the second one is much clearer, and only half as long? Look anywhere in corporate Australia, and you’ll see nouns not only lurking in people’s writing, but flagrantly flaunting their fleshy rumps. What’s wrong with nouns?

Nouns are things. They sit there lazily, doing nothing. Oh, they seem innocent, but be warned — use too many and your readers will beg for mercy…or press “delete.” The solution?

Verbs. They’re actions. Something’s happening. It’s the difference between a photo and a movie. Nouns make your writing fat (long), boring and vague, while verbs keep it short and lively. So…go the verbs!

  • Noun: A thing, quality, place or person. E.g. car, happiness, neighbour.
  • Verb: An action. E.g. run, think, drive.

Source: Magneto

Examples

He discussed specific examples of designing analysis tools with consideration of possible future factors that may need to be taken into account so that if such contingencies arise they are easily incorporated into the model being used.

Replace with:

  • He discussed specific examples of designing analysis tools, with consideration for contingencies and a willingness to incorporate changes.

He may have some difficulty attuning his leadership approach to individual employees, and possibly taking behaviour at face value rather than making an effort to understand underlying motives and feelings.

Replace with:

  • He may have some difficulty attuning his leadership approach to individual employees. As such, he may at times take behaviour at face value, rather than making an effort to understand underlying motives and feelings.

Here are some examples of cutting the diamond to sparkle more brightly (taken from consultant reports):

  • Rather than repeating a basic report created for a customer in previous years, he improved the report by including more relevant information based on discussions he had with his wider team regarding the client’s current situation.
  • His preferred approach is to be able to anticipate likely difficulties and plan ways to avoid them.
  • He ensured that management was kept remained informed and signed off on the required compromises.
  • Irrespective of the specific targets Lee sets for himself, his preference to set himself less challenging and stretching objectives may…
  • He monitors deadline dates, talks with others to check things are on track progress and…
  • His strong preference for involving others also suggests that, if progress is not being made according to the schedule, he will make contact with customers and inform them of the situation.
  • As mentioned, he is likely to involve customers in any discussions regarding changes and is likely to feel moderately comfortable instructing others in the way to do things in order to achieve the overall goals.
  • She instilled a sense of urgency and tackled problems in a practical and pragmatic way…
  • Peter’s responses to the personality questionnaire indicate that he prefers to behave consistently, rather than preferring to adapt his behaviour. This may indicate that there will be some people with whom he finds it more difficult to build relationships. as a result of his consistent approach.
  • You do not confront with others, you confront others. But… you consult with others.

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