Some Strategies for Improving Sentence Clarity


Included here are strategies you can use to write clear sentences.

Go from old to new 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.)

Add clauses at the end of the sentence rather than at the beginning or in the middle.

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.

Use the active voice.

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.)

Use parallel constructions.

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 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.

Avoid noun strings

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.

Avoid noun forms of verbs (nominalizations).

In general, use verbs if possible rather than noun forms called "nominalizations."

Avoid negatives.

When possible, use tbe affirmative ratber than the negative or a string of negatives because negatives are harder to understand.

People pay more attention to commercials with human interest stories.

Avoid unclear pronouns

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.
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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.

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Last revised 31 October 1996 by JEB