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Sleek Writing: Put Your Sentences on a Diet

We tend to speak plainly and succinctly but for some reason, when we write, we stuff our sentences with extra verbiage, turning streamlined ideas into confusing, out-of-shape messes.

Here is a good example of a sentence that needs a workout: The network that this computer is able to connect to contains information that is privileged and confidential. (Thanks to Lynne W. for this real-life example.) No one speaks this way. We couldn’t come up with such a mouthful of empty words if we tried! The fastest way to shape up your writing is to think simple by placing subjects and verbs close to each other: network contains and computer connects.

This will help you notice and remove extra words like is able to, that this computer, and that is privileged.

Now you will find it easier to rewrite the sentence: This computer connects to a network containing privileged and confidential information. Sleek!

For more tips on effective writing, click here.

Pop Quiz

Simplify the following sentences to make them sleek:

1. We are no longer able to reconcile; therefore, attorneys will be used to effect the dissolution of our marriage.

2. The weather had adverse impacts on our boat resulting in the necessity to rescue us from the water.

3. The leak in the bottom of the boat was due to poor maintenance on the part of the crew.

Pop Quiz Sample Answers

(Other answers are possible.)

1. We have hired attorneys to help us with our divorce.

2. Our boat capsized in the storm so we needed rescuing.

3. The boat leaked because the crew did not maintain it.

Posted on Tuesday, August 3, 2010, at 10:00 am


6 Comments

6 Responses to “Sleek Writing: Put Your Sentences on a Diet”

  1. Hey there I just wanted to take a moment to say i love reading your website.

    • Jane says:

      Thank you for the compliment. Since our website is dedicated to proper grammar and punctuation, please do not forget to always capitalize the pronoun I and use a comma after introductory words and phrases such as “Hey there.”

  2. Allan says:

    Today in the L. A. Times, an article contained the following sentence: “Every time he has tried to get started, injuries have sat him back down.” I question the correctness of the verb “have sat”. My wife thinks the whole sentence needs rewriting but I’m inclined just to drop the word “have”. Perhaps it is correct as is but you would have the last word on that.

    • Jane says:

      The sentence as written is grammatically correct. Since the initial phrase contains the present perfect verb “has tried,” in order to maintain parallel construction, the verb in the second phrase must be “have sat.” However, a more economical sentence might use the simple past tense: Every time he tried to get started, injuries sat him back down.

  3. David says:

    I have a question. If you start a sentence that includes a coordinating conjuction with a statement, can you end it with a question? For example: It’s cold outside, so do I need to wear a coat?

    • Jane says:

      As mentioned in Rule 2 of our Question Marks section, “Use a question mark when a sentence is half statement and half question.”
      Thus, you could write the sentence that way or omit the word so entirely. You could also reword the sentence to:
      Do I need to wear a coat since it is cold outside?

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