Writing 101

Whenever you read an interesting article or a book, your attention first goes to the kind of sentence structure it has. Is it too lengthy or verbose? Are too many complicated words used? If yes, then there is a lesson in this- the writer is just trying to make a grandiose display of his knowledge of English. Being self-indulgent and writing in ornate prose rarely works can be acceptable to a certain extent only when you are refined in the art of humor and subtlety. Else it is just considered an exercise of massaging your ego. If you want to become a good writer, then keep it mind these golden words from John Ruskin, a leading English art critic of the Victorian era:

“Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.”

John Ruskin Writing

The most important thing you can do to become a better writer is to make your sentences short and precise. How to do this? Here are 7 rules you should follow:

1. Combine sentences

Combine consecutive sentences that end and begin with the same word or phrase as shown below:

‘A simple way to track the current state of systems is to monitor performance metrics. Performance metrics indicate how the assets are performing for each sub-level.’

You can remove ‘performance metrics’ in the second sentence by removing the period and using a comma:

A simple way to track the current state of systems is to monitoring performance metrics, which indicate how the assets are performing for each sub-level.’

2. Condense a sentence by subordination

When two consecutive verb phrases are included in a sentence, you should convert one to a subordinate clause. For instance, take note how the subject of this sentence is followed by two statements of fact:

Roohafza is a symbol of the city’s summer drink and is often served in a glass with chilled water and  ice to display its luscious red color.

The first statement can easily be subsumed into the main clause as a parenthetical phrase: Roohafza, a symbol of the city’s summer drink, is often served in a glass with chilled water and ice to display its luscious red color.

3. Use terms instead of definitions

One effective strategy to become more concise in your writing is to avoid defining a term or phrase that people already know. For example:

‘She was prone to making embarrassing mistakes in public.’

Here, the behavior of the person can be described with a definition that signifies it. So the above sentence becomes: She was prone to committing faux pas.

4. Remove expletive constructions

Try to avoid using expletive constructions such as ‘it is’, ‘there is’, and ‘there are’, because they obscure the main subject and action of the sentence, making the sentence weaker. Consider the following sentence:

‘There are likely to be many people who will raise objection to the latest updates to the 7th pay commission.’

Many people are likely to raise objection to the latest updates to the 7th pay commission.

Note: It is not necessary to delete expletives in all the cases but their usage should be minimal.

5. Avoid Tautology

Tautology is redundancy or repetition, which should be reduced as much as possible.

For example:

Can you please repeat that again? (Repeat itself means to mention something again)

Let’s begin by getting started. (Getting started just means begin only)

These should be modified to:

Can you please repeat that?

Let’s begin.

6. Use of Brief Modifiers

When you have to modify a noun to provide more information about it, use a preceding adjective or phrasal adjective instead of an extended phrase following the noun. The following sentence showcases the use of a verbose modifying phrase:

“He offered an explanation that was brief and to the point.”

This sentence can be made crisper by describing explanation before i.e.
He offered a brief, to-the-point explanation.

7. Excising Single Words

There are many instances where a sentence can be improved significantly just be removing a single word-

“Rather than going through all of the contracts, a representative sample should be selected.”

In the phrase “all of,” of is not required. The sentence sounds better with:

Rather than going through all the contracts, a representative sample should be selected.

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Writing 101
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