This the second of my occasional posts on writing simply and clearly, and here we consider how to tidy up a piece of text once you’ve got something written down. Examples are drawn from How to improve your writing 1 – the first part of this two-parter.
Work out what your verbal tics are, and edit your text to remove them
Make this a habit. Here are some examples:
- Remove all adverbs and adjectives and see what is left
- Turn the passive voice into the active voice.
- Look out for and eliminate any personal tics you may have.
Adverbs and adjectives are words that describe or qualify other words (the red balloon burst loudly). The following text won a Golden Bull in 2008 from the Plain English campaign:
‘Our goal at Balfour Beatty is to deliver consistent, long-term growth to our shareholders ... By becoming the partner of choice tosophisticated owners in our chosen disciplines and geographies, we believe we will achieve secure, industry best margins in ourcontracting activities and substantial, sustainable equity returns from our long-term investment portfolio.’
As you can see, this isn’t much better but it has helped us work out if the text contained anything of substance and how to re-organise it.
Our goal is to deliver long term growth to our shareholders, and we believe we’ll achieve this by becoming the partner of owners in our disciplines and geographies.
Sometimes, when you do this you’ll discover that what you’ve written goes round in circles. If it does, cut it out.
Making up an example was quicker than finding one. The passive voice is considered to be particularly bad in process documentation because it is easy to forget about an actor who is never mentioned.
I found it quicker to make up an example than find one. I particularly dislike it when a writer or analyst uses the passive voice in process documentation (the mat is sat upon) because I have no idea who is doing the sitting (the cat, presumably).
I have a fondness for -ing verbs. Here are some that I’ve cut out from an earlier version of this post:
This is about getting across information or ideas … anything which is just expanding or supporting the main points … the most important point you are making … preparing our audience with subsidiary points and building up to a conclusion …
You have already seen how I got rid of those.
Don’t worry that you’ll squeeze all the character out of your writing because you won’t: it is more important to be clear than quirky and you can be quirky and clear at the same time.
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