Each of the examples below illustrates a distinct strategy for shortening and simplifying sentences. A discussion and a revision follows each example.
1. You can go ahead and turn off the valve.
The phrase “go ahead and” is a classic example of an extraneous phrase, preceding a verb, likely to turn up in speech when the speaker wishes to avoid seeming too assertive, but it has no place in writing, and the sentence can be further pared down by reducing it to a bare imperative statement with an implied subject: “Turn off the valve.”
2. If possible, take the rug outside and shake it to dislodge resistant dirt.
Similarly, the two-step instruction in this sentence is easily truncated to a more concise direction by omitting the first verb and replacing it with the second one after the latter has been divested of the pronoun that follows it: “If possible, shake the rug outside to dislodge resistant dirt.”
3. It is not a matter of if such a risk event might occur, but more a matter of when it will occur and the organization’s preparedness to reduce the impact and proliferation of the event.
The counterpoint phrases in the sentence are easily combined: “It is a matter of if, not of when, such a risk event will occur, and of the organization’s preparedness to reduce the impact and proliferation of the event.”
4. The Safe Harbor agreement was the framework used by companies in the United States and the European Union to exchange citizens’ personal data. This mechanism was declared invalid by the European Court of Justice on October 6, 2015.
Simply constructed declarative statements are easily combined, usually by one of two methods—either insert one modified sentence into the other as a parenthetical, or, as here, revise both sentences so that one can be tacked onto the other: “The Safe Harbor agreement, the framework companies in the United States and the European Union used to exchange citizens’ personal data, was declared invalid by the European Court of Justice on October 6, 2015.” (Note, too, the shift from passive to active construction of the verb used. Also, the entire sentence could be rendered more active—and slightly shorter—by replacing the subject as follows: “On October 6, 2015, the European Court of Justice declared the Safe Harbor agreement, the framework companies in the United States and the European Union use to exchange citizens’ personal data, invalid.”)
5. Phorusrhacids were known as “terror birds,” and it’s clear why. They were prehistoric carnivorous birds. They were the largest flightless birds to ever walk the plant. They reached a height of up to ten feet. They were natural inhabitants of South America.
This annoyingly inelegant paragraph, written in simple, repetitive sentences as if by a child, is easily rehabilitated by employing the first method described in the previous example—incorporating a couple of the statements into the others: “Phorusrhacids, natural inhabitants of South America, are informally known as “terror birds,” and it’s clear why. These prehistoric carnivorous avians, the largest flightless birds to ever walk the plant, stood up to ten feet tall.”