A Quiz About Compressing Accordion Sentences
Brisk, lively writing requires attending to phrasing that slows readers down and or trips them up. Be vigilant about finding ways to make sentences less wordy and more direct. Firm up these five flabby sentences, and compare your revisions with mine:
1. “The kit includes a set of five food containers, and they are dishwasher safe.”
Insert the key information in the second clause of this sentence as a phrasal adjective preceding the subject: “The kit includes a set of five dishwasher-safe food containers.”
2. “In 1995, he published a book called Bowling Alone, which introduced the term ‘social capital’ into our nation’s vocabulary.”
Shift the focus from the author’s act of publishing the book to the result of the publication by deleting compacting the phrase “he published a book called” to “his book,” then delete the comma and which: “In 1995, his book Bowling Alone introduced the term ‘social capital’ into our nation’s vocabulary.” (Use this solution cautiously, as such a shift in focus may cause the passage to veer from fidelity to the author’s intent.)
3. “The film was commissioned by the US Treasury Department, and it was troubled from the beginning.”
When a sentence includes more than one form of the verb phrase “to be” — is, was, were, and the like — discover a way to eliminate at least one of them; in this case, alter what follows was in the first clause to a subordinate clause, and jettison the conjunction: “The film, commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department, was troubled from the beginning.” (Look for opportunities in such cases to replace not one but both “to be” verbs, which are inferior in impact to more vivid verbs — doing so may encourage you to be more specific, too: “The film, commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department, suffered from bureaucratic interference from the beginning.”)
4. “Smith is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and frequently represents evangelicals in the media.”
This sentence is improved in the same fashion as the previous one, with the additional improvement of replacing the verbose “part of the whole” construction with a “whole’s part” revision: “Smith, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, frequently represents evangelicals in the media.” (Take care, however, that this more concentrated restructuring is not more ponderous than the original phrasing.)
5. “My cousin, who is employed as an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, claims that a scenario similar to that one could occur if the circumstances were right.”
Delete the redundant indicators that the writer’s cousin is a person (who) and is employed at the place of employment, and tighten the rest of the sentence by converting phrases that contain an adjective and follow a noun into adjectives preceding the nouns and modifying them on their own: “My cousin, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, claims that a similar scenario could occur under the right circumstances.”
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