Every single word has a meaning. This is either the meaning described in the dictionary or placed on the word by its function. A sentence conveys the piled up meaning of all the words you put in it.
Looking at it this way, it’s easy to see why writing can be confusing to read … a pile of meaning, jumbled together.
In essence, this is why the rules of sentence construction exist. In English, the placement of words in specific parts of a sentence ALSO contributes to meaning.
So, when you hear that famous adage, ‘I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one,’ you should begin to understand that the precise meaning of the message was never found… and so it got talked around, added to, and detracted from.
Here are 4 Strategies for Making your writing shorter, simpler, and more effective.
- Keep it short
We all have words we like to use when we are thinking. These are the equivalent of saying ‘uhm’ when talking. Make your writing clearer by removing these kinds of words from your sentences and break the habit of using them. If in doubt, look at your sentence word by word and ask, ‘Does this word have a job or is it just hanging around here looking pretty?’
Send the pretty words home and keep the hard-working ones. Take note of the unnecessary words, you’ll suddenly see you use them a lot.
- Adverbs and Qualifiers
Adverbs literally add meaning or inflexion to verbs. In other words, the verb you have chosen doesn’t do what you want it to, so you must add an adverb to get it to do that. It is much more effective and clearer to just choose a better verb and lose the adverb. The same goes for qualifiers intensifiers like ‘ very’ or sort of. The adjective isn’t accurate enough, so you modify it with these extra words. Stop it. Build your vocabulary, find alternative adjectives using an online thesaurus or dictionary.
- Sentence Building
There is a simple rule in English: Every sentence has a subject, and most sentences should start with the subject. The subject of your sentence is the person or thing that the rest of the information in the sentence is about. Start with it, that way everyone knows to what the rest of the sentence applies. English is very direct we have people or things (subjects) doing things (verbs) sometimes to other things (objects) Use this simplicity to your advantage… it is clear!
- Tense and Time Word Accuracy
Keep your audience in the right time zone by making sure that your verb (present, past, or simple) is in the right form to match your time words (right now, yesterday, tomorrow etc).
You cannot say ‘working’ if your sentence time indicator is ‘always.’ It must be ‘works.’
You can’t use the time word ‘yesterday’ with the verb ‘eat,’ it must be ‘ate.’ This may sound simplistic, but you will be amazed at how often the timeline of sentences is confused by such mistakes.
While it is possible to write long, elegant, and flowing English using complex words, loads of punctuation and deviations, it is often hard to understand and has a minor impact on your audience. To make an impact and be clear, keep it stupidly simple!
David Chislett, senior trainer business English
(c) Taleninstituut Nederland