Go from old to new information.
The following is an example of a sentence that uses old information to lead to new information. As a result, it is rather clear and understandable
Here is a sentence that is not as clear. It moves from new information to old information:
(Did you find the second sentence hard to read or understand? If so, it could be because the old information comes late in the sentence after the new information.)
Once readers have the big picture, you can add information to the end of the sentence where it is both easier to understand and easier to remember.
Industrial spying is increasing rapidly because of the growing use of computers to store and process corporate information.
Industrial spying,because of the growing use of computers to store and process corporate information, is increasing rapidly.
Often, the active voice is easier to understand than the passive voice because the active voice explains who is doing the action expressed in the verb. In addition, active voice often results in simpler, shorter sentences. So, use active verbs unless you have good reason to use the passive. (For example, the passive is useful when you don't want to call attention to the doer, when the doer is obvious or unimportant, or when the preferred format among your readers is passive.
For more on the passive, consult the Writing Lab's handout on active/passive voice.)
The committee decided (an active verb) to postpone the vote.
The decision was reached (a passive verb) by the committee to postpone the vote.
When you have a series of words, phrases, or clauses, put tbem in parallel form (similar grammatical construction) so that the reader can identify the linking relationship more easily and clearly.
In Florida, where the threat of hurricanes is an annual event, we learned tbat it is important to become aware of the warning signs (1), to know what precautions to take (2), and to decide when to seek (3).
In Florida, where the threat of hurricanes is an annual event, we learned that it is important to become aware of the warning signs (1). There are precautions to take (2), and deciding when to take shelter is important (3).
In the second sentence, notice how the string of "things to be aware of in Florida" does not create a parallel structure. Also, notice how much more difficult it is for a reader to follow the meaning of the second sentence compared to the first sentence.
Try not to string nouns together one after tbe other because a series of nouns is difficult to understand. One way to revise a string of nouns is to change one noun to a verb.
This theory calls for growth reduction capabilities.
This theory calls for the capability of reducing growth.
In general, use verbs if possible rather than noun forms called "nominalizations."
The implementation of goals was successful.
When possible, use tbe affirmative ratber than the negative or a string of negatives because negatives are harder to understand.
Less attention is paid to commercials that lack human interest stories.
People pay more attention to commercials with human interest stories.
Be sure your pronouns clearly refer to nouns that have already appeared on the page.
(What does the pronoun "this" refer to? Does "this" refer to on-the-spot reporting? Or might "this" refer to the fact tbat newspapers cannot be instantly or quickly printed? Or do you have a different interpretation?
Copyright (C)1995 by Purdue University. All rights reserved.
This document may be distributed as long as it is done entirely with all attributions to organizations and authors. Commercial distribution is strictly prohibited. Portions of this document may be copyrighted by other organizations.
This document is part of a collection of instructional materials used in the Purdue University Writing Lab. The on-line version is part of OWL (On-line Writing Lab), a project of the Purdue University Writing Lab, funded by the School of Liberal Arts at Purdue.
OWL is an e-mail server (email@example.com), a gopher site (owl.english.purdue.edu), an anonymous FTP archive (at owl.english.purdue.edu ), and a World Wide Web site (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/).
Last revised 31 October 1996 by JEB