A Basis for More Concise Wording

By Mark Nichol

One clear sign of a sentence that is a candidate for conciseness is the noun basis, especially when it appears in the phrase “on a/an [blank] basis.”

Whenever you are tempted to write such a phrase, or you find as you review a piece of your writing that you have already done so, seek an alternate path. For example, in the sentence “We conduct an audit of our company on an annual basis,” reduce the phrase “on an annual basis” by deleting all but the adjective annual and converting it to an adverb: “We conduct an audit of our company annually.” (The sentence can also be abridged by moving the adjective to modify the first noun in the sentence instead, as in “We conduct an annual audit of our company.”) If basis evades your vigilance, watch for terms of frequency, such as daily, weekly, and monthly.

This solution works for adjectives that generically refer to frequency as well: “The maintenance crew inspects the structure on a periodic basis” is easily revised to “The maintenance crew inspects the structure periodically” or “The maintenance crew periodically inspects the structure.”

Sometimes, the revision isn’t so straightforward. For example, the sentence “He was advised to seek counseling on an ongoing basis” cannot be altered in the format of the first of each pair of revisions above, because ongoing has no adverbial form, although the second alternative is valid: “He was advised to seek ongoing counseling.”

Use of the basis phrase isn’t egregious, and eradicating its every instance is not necessary, but avoid it for the most part, and beware of multiple instances in the same piece of content, especially in proximity.

Basis, adopted into English directly from Latin, originally came from Greek, where basis meant “step.” The sense in Latin and English is “foundation,” and like its close cousin base, basis is fundamental in English, but it is easily overused, and “on a/an [blank] basis” can become tiresome, especially in repetition.

The same is true of “in a/an [blank] manner” and similar constructions, which can also be reduced to more concise phrasing.

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5 Responses to “A Basis for More Concise Wording”

  • Curtis Manges

    What? No “ongoingly”? It’s logical and unambiguous. There’s probably a better substitute available, though.

  • Dale A. Wood

    What an outstanding article, Mr. Nichol !
    “Buzz words” like “basis”, “manner”, and “ongoing” have also wormed their way into the jargon of many fields, such as education and business. My father had his doctorate in education, but thereafter even in ordinary speech, he would let loose in jargon and buzz words from education. It was grating on the ears and on the mind.

    Then in the same house we had my mother who could speak clearly and concisely on just about any subject that you could name. She was a teacher, too, an English teacher, but she had no outbursts of overused and jargon words.
    D.A.W.

  • Steve

    What’s your take on “currently”? This is currently one of my prescriptivist peeves. As in the preceding sentence, the present tense “is” explains quite well that I’m talking about what bugs me now. “Currently” is jargon that I excise when I can.

    “Currently” is useful when it signals contrast or change, but more often I see it as basis-class jargon. (“Ongoing”? Ha!)

  • Mark Nichol

    Steve:
    Out of the hundreds of instances of currently I’ve come across in editing projects, I believe I could count on one hand the number of them I haven’t deleted. Even contrast-or-change contexts don’t necessarily justify its inclusion.

  • Agua Caliente

    Business communication is a world unto itself. Usages such as the cited “basis,” while they may come and go, tend to be sticky until they are superseded with other bloatwords, redundancies, or neologisms. Even the most well-intentioned business communicator may sometimes find that concise, efficient business prose may only confuse the uninitiated. Still, one must persevere!

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