5 Types of Awkward Wording to Avoid
The following five sentences demonstrate various ways a carelessly worded or constructed sentence can fail to communicate the intended idea. A discussion and a revision follows each example.
1. There is a danger of overreaction and a rush to implement poorly thought through laws and regulations.
Because the phrase “thought through” modifies “laws and regulations,” it should be hyphenated, but that phrasal adjective is awkward, partly because it’s difficult to say and especially because of the similarity of appearance of the constituent words. In such cases, seek one or more words that convey the same idea: “There is a danger of overreaction and a rush to implement poorly conceived laws and regulations.”
2. The consultant submitted a compliance risk mitigation plan.
A string of nouns used as adjectives to modify another noun is grammatically correct (when properly hyphenated, which this example is not) but cumbersome. When more than two or three adjectives appear together like this, unpack the sentence and start over again, beginning with the target noun and using prepositions between the adjectives to relax the statement: “The consultant submitted a plan to mitigate compliance risk.”
3. That person is the chief ombudsman, which we use here to refer to the department’s director.
The dependent clause implies that what is “used” here is the person, rather than the phrase used to designate that person. The sentence must be revised to clarify that here, “chief ombudsman” is a description of a person, not the person himself or herself: “That person is the chief ombudsman, the designation we use here to refer to the department’s director.”
4. We understand that all organizations are unique and can help you with your specific challenges.
As constructed, this sentence erroneously suggests that all organizations are unique and that all organizations can help you with your specific challenges. The intended meaning, however, is that the company represented by the writer understands that all organizations are unique; in addition, the company can help the targeted reader with specific challenges. To clarify this distinction, the sentence must be divided into two independent clauses, each of which addresses one of the two distinct points: “We understand that all organizations are unique, and we can help you with your specific challenges.”
5. While reacting to unexpected surprises and being able to put out fires are essential at times, these capabilities are not sufficient for managing a company in a volatile market.
In conversational writing, though and while are interchangeable as conjunctions, but it is best to reserve each word to mean “despite the fact that,” and “during the time that” respectively; otherwise, readers might misread the beginning of a sentence or phrase starting with while, thinking that the statement pertains to simultaneous events (“While [someone was] reacting to [something, something else occurred]”): “Though reacting to unexpected surprises and being able to put out fires are essential at times, these capabilities are not sufficient for managing a company in a volatile market.”