English Grammar Blog
Improve Your Writing by Simplifying Your Sentences
“Simplicity is the glory of expression,” Walt Whitman once said. Good writers know that simple, clear writing is the best way to make their point and keep readers glued to their copy. However, simplicity in writing is difficult to learn. How can you achieve it?
First, simplify your thinking. Messy writing often comes from an unorganized mind. Before putting pen to paper, clarify your message. Knowing exactly what you want to say will make the writing process easier.
Second, simplify your sentences. The sentence is the smallest unit of composition that carry a complete message. When your sentences are too wordy or complex, your writing is confusing. Here are a few tips on how to keep them simple.
1. Use short sentences.
Tame your wild sentences by watching their length. Avoid endless ones, that make your reader gasp for a comma or a period.
2. Cut unnecessary words.
Many words are mere clutter: they take space, but achieve nothing. Stay away from expressions such as “it is a fact that,“ or “there is no doubt but that.” You can either cut them or replace them with shorter versions such as “no doubt.”
3. Think twice before using adjectives and adverbs.
Adjectives and adverbs are often unnecessary. You can do without “very,” “also” or “really.” “Actually,” “basically” or “completely” add little to your message. The line of adjectives in “our reliable, trustworthy team” makes the writing crowded and waters down the message.
4. Avoid repetitive phrases.
Once you said what you had to say, move on. The sentence “He worked hard in order to gain the trust of their clients and make them more confident” does not need the last five words.
5. Avoid run-on sentences.
A run-on sentence has at least two parts crowded together, either of which can stand by itself. “The study material is very difficult, I will need a tutor” needs a period instead of a comma.
6. Avoid introductory phrases and clauses.
Do not waste time in making your point. Emphasize your message by starting your sentence with the subject.
7. Do not overuse prepositions.
A high dose of these little words can turn your sentence into a nightmare. “The cold touch of the wind from the south” can be reduced to “the cold touch of the southern wind.”
8. Use the active voice.
Passive voice is weak and confusing. “ I will always remember my summer vacation” is simpler and clearer than “My summer vacation will always be remembered.”
9. Write in the positive form.
The negative form complicates the sentence, by weighing it down with unnecessary words, and making the message weaker. Write “he refused” instead of “he did not want to,” or “narrow” instead of “not very wide.”
10. Use concrete language.
Ernest Hemingway called it “vigorous English.” Let each word draw a clear picture. When a person is “stumbling,” it is more vivid than “walking unsteadily.” When another is “grumbling,“ it is simpler than “muttering in discontent.”
As a word of caution, remember not to go too far in your search for simplicity. Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Do not regress to the writing level of a child. Simple writing is not idiotic. It is writing where every word has a purpose. Keep that in mind.
- The Essentials of Readable Writing
- Mastering the Art of Sentence Transitions
- Choosing the Best Words for Your Writing
- What Is an Adverb and How Are They Used?
- Rules to Improve Your Spelling