10 Ways to Render Sentences More Concise

By Mark Nichol - 4 minute read

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This post details various strategies for reducing and simplifying sentences.

1. Sentence Combination
Avoid consecutive sentences that end and begin, respectively, with the same word or phrase as occurs here:

A common way to track the current state of systems is monitoring performance metrics. Performance metrics show how assets are performing at the transaction level.

In such cases, replace the period between them with a comma and delete the second iteration of the word or phrase with which: “A common way to track the current state of systems is monitoring performance metrics, which show how assets are performing at the transaction level.”

2. Condensing by Subordination
When a sentence includes two consecutive verb phrases, consider converting one to a subordinate clause. For example, note how the subject of this sentence is followed by two statements of fact:

The renowned tea is a symbol of the city’s gracious hospitality and is often served in a glass to display its jade-green color.

The first statement can easily be subsumed into the main clause as a parenthetical phrase: “The renowned tea, a symbol of the city’s gracious hospitality, is often served in a glass to display its jade-green color.”

3. Integration of Clauses
Here, an introductory subordinate clause sets up an unnecessarily wordy sentence:

For health care entities with similar classes of customers, they may be able to reduce the overall evaluation effort by applying the portfolio approach.

The clause is easily integrated into the main clause by omitting for and treating “health care entities,” rather than they, as the sentence’s subject: “Health care entities with similar classes of customers may be able to reduce the overall evaluation effort by applying the portfolio approach.”

4. Denominalization
Nominalization is the complication of prose by using nouns when employing the verb form of that noun, or revising the sentence to eliminate the need for a noun, produces more clear, concise prose; nouns, of course, are integral to prose but, especially in the case of formal nouns with such elements as -ation, they can be abused in the service of conveying authority. This sentence is not overly formal, but it is wordier than necessary:

Furthermore, companies are taking backups of the production applications and storing them for indefinite periods.

Denominalization—literally, “unnaming”—is simply a fancy way of saying “rephrasing to eliminate nouns.” Note that in this sentence, the noun backups can be converted to a verb, rendering the verb taking superfluous, and the final phrase can be condensed by transforming the adjective indefinite into an adverb, which enables deletion of the noun periods: “Furthermore, companies are backing up the production applications and storing them indefinitely.”

The following sentence is an example of a statement with a double-decker nominalization:

Management may find it beneficial to engage in a dialogue on a periodic basis regarding the organization’s policy.

As in the previous example, one word easily replaces a phrase—“on a periodic basis” can be reduced to periodically: “Management may find it beneficial to periodically engage in a dialogue regarding the organization’s policy.”

But further reduction is achieved by replacing the phrase “engage in a dialogue” with a synonymous word: “Management may find it beneficial to periodically discuss the organization’s policy.”

5. Employing Terms Rather Than Definitions
One strategy to achieve conciseness is to avoid describing something by defining it; note the explanation in the following sentence:

He was prone to making embarrassing mistakes in public.

Here, the person’s behavior can be described with a term that embodies the definition: “He was prone to committing faux pas.”

6. Deletion of Expletives
The expletives “there is” and “there are” are poor substitutes for a strong subject; note how the following sentence gets off to a weak start:

There are few, if any, finance and accounting departments that are not experiencing some form of extreme change.

Expletives need not be excised in every case, but minimize their use by deleting such phrases in favor of the definite noun or noun phrase that follows (and delete the associated that that appears later in the sentence): “Few, if any, finance and accounting departments are not experiencing some form of extreme change.”

7. Avoiding Tautology
Tautology is redundancy or repetition, such as shown here:

Could you repeat that again?

To repeat is to do something again, so this sentence is equivalent to “Could you say that again again?” Indicate the action one way or another: “Could you say that again?” or, more concisely, “Could you repeat that?”

8. Using Brief Modifiers
When modifying a noun to provide more information about it, use a preceding adjective or phrasal adjective rather than an extended phrase following the noun. The following sentence demonstrates use of a verbose modifying phrase:

She offered an explanation that was brief and to the point.

This sentence can be tightened up by locating the description of the explanation before the noun: “She offered a brief, to-the-point explanation.”

9. Excising Single Words
Sometimes, reducing a sentence by just one word improves it, as shown in the following examples:

Rather than assessing all of the contracts, select a representative sample to assess.

In the phrase “all of,” of is generally superfluous: “Rather than assessing all the contracts, select a representative sample to assess.”

How is technology helping to change the way elderly people are cared for?

In the phrase “helping to,” to is extraneous: “How is technology helping change the way elderly people are cared for?”

That is the most annoying error I have ever seen, and also the most prevalent.

Also, when it immediately follows and, is redundant: “That is the most annoying error I have ever seen, and the most prevalent.”

10. Avoiding Prolixity

Refrain from florid, verbose descriptions. The following sentence is an extreme example of self-indulgent wordiness, but unless one is deliberately prolix in the service of humor, be vigilant about reining in excessively ornate prose:

One might with the utmost confidence essay to prevail in a debate in which one asserts that possessing one’s own means of vehicular conveyance offers one greater flexibility than public transportation provides in the matter of travel to one’s place of learning or employment or to social occasions.

Pare such overly complicated composition: “It’s easy to win an argument that having one’s own car makes it easier to get to school or work or to meet friends than if one uses public transportation.”

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2 Responses to “10 Ways to Render Sentences More Concise”

  • venqax

    “10 Ways to Render Sentences Conciser” !

  • Aleksandr H.

    Overall, great article! I employ most of these tips myself when editing others’ writing. The only ones I disagree with are #5 and #7:

    5. Employing Terms Rather Than Definitions
    He was prone to making embarrassing mistakes in public.
    He was prone to committing faux pas.

    In this case, your revision strips the original sentence of its context—namely, that he was prone to making mistakes *in public*. The revision is too generic and lacks the conversational simplicity of the first. Shorter isn’t always better.

    7. Avoiding Tautology
    Tautology is redundancy or repetition, such as shown here:
    Could you repeat that again?

    While I agree with this, I think it really depends on the context. Because perhaps the speaker had already asked for a repetition and is now asking for *yet another* repetition.

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