Most of us know clumsy sentences when we hear or read them, but we don’t always know exactly why they are clumsy or possess the skills to fix them. An E-Newsletter reader heard the awkwardness of the following sentence but was puzzled by how to reword it.
The network that this computer is able to connect to contains information that is privileged and confidential.
She may have felt uncomfortable about “able to connect to” because it sounds like a dangling modifier. However, this is just a symptom of bigger problems. The clumsiness is caused by several common writing errors:
*Unnecessary dependent clauses
Get rid of that is/which is, that are/which are clauses whenever possible.
*Extraneous verb phrases
Delete verb phrases that don’t add meaning: is able to.
*Subjects too far away from their verbs
Place subjects closer to their verbs: computer connects, network contains.
Weed out repetitious words: Confidential and privileged mean the same thing in this context.
Finally, tweak the wording so that the sentence flows:
This computer connects to a network containing confidential information.
For more tips on effective writing, including using specific rather than vague language, active vs. passive voice, and parallel form, click here.
Posted on Monday, March 1, 2010, at 9:12 am23 Comments on Writing Elegantly