Monday, February 22, 2016

Writing in Plain Language, Part 6: Clipped Sentences

Writing in plain language requires a fluency similar to what we expect to hear in an articulate conversation. The last WORDS ON THE LINE post noted that overlong, convoluted sentences pose fluency problems. So do short, choppy ones. Here is an example of first-draft clipped sentences:

We came to a decision this morning. The decision was about new applicants. The decision applies to the Westchester office only. This is because of the technical skills needed of the Westchester office staff. All applicants for the Westchester office must submit GMAT or GRE quantitative results. In lieu of submitting these results, they may take an internal analytical test. This test will be administered by Quality Assurance.

This draft uses 7 sentences for its 68 words, yet it is stating only 6 ideas:

  1. We made a decision this morning.
  2. The decision concerned new Westchester applicants.
  3. Westchester applicant need technical skills.
  4. These applicants must submit GMAT or GRE quantitative results.
  5. They may substitute these results by taking an analytical test.
  6. The analytical test will be administered by Quality Assurance.
Employing the same method as we used for overlong sentences, we start with the most important point, ordering subordinate points where they best fit. Here is one way of editing the paragraph:

This morning we decided to assess the needed technical skills of Westchester office applicants by requiring them to submit their GMAT or GRE quantitative results or to take an analytical test administered by Quality Assurance.

This 35-word sentence has at least three benefits. First, it eliminates the word count by 33 words, nearly half. Second, it organizes the ideas in an understandable order, thereby increasing readability. Finally, it "sounds" natural, much like the speech pattern of an articulate speaker.