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Simplifying sentences

Almost any sentence can be simplified and almost any text can be cut. In Revising Prose, Richard Lanham offers a simple method to turn long-winded writing into short, crisp sentences.

  • Circle the prepositions (of, in, for, onto, into, about). They drain the action from a sentence, so try to eliminate them.
  • Circle the “is” verb forms (“is taking time”) and replace as many as you can (“takes time”).
  • Convert passive voice (“time is needed for this project”) into active voice (“this project needs time”).
  • Cut out slow starts (“One can easily see that...”) and get to the point.
  • Eliminate redundancies. Don’t say “on a daily basis” when “daily” means the same thing.

These rules make text clearer, more persuasive, and shorter.

For example:

  • Please note that although Chrome is supported for both Mac and Windows operating systems, it is recommended that all users of this site switch to the most up-to-date version of the Firefox web browser for the best possible results. (41 words)

Simplified version:

  • For best results, use the latest version of Firefox. Chrome for Mac and Windows is also supported. (17 words)

Use Lanham’s rules to remove the words that pad your sentences.

  • DDB UK’s advertisement for Volkswagen in the UK shows just how much you can cut.
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