How to Make Sentences Clear and Concise
Richard Lanham, a professor of English at UCLA, invented an easy-to-use method for making your writing clearer and more concise. The Writing Center strongly advocates Lanham's "Paramedic Method" for your writing. Here's how to do it:
1a. Circle the Prepositions. Too many prepositions can drain all the action out of a sentence. Get rid of the prepositions and find a strong active verb to make the sentence direct:
1b. Circle the "is" forms. Using "is" in a sentence gets it off to a slow start, and makes the sentence weak. Replace as many "to be" verbs with action verbs as you can, and change all passive voice ("is defended by") to an active voice ("defends").
2. Ask, "Where's the action?" "Who's kicking who?" (using Lanham's own terminology here--to be precise, it would be "Who kicks whom?"). If you get stuck in a passive sentence always ask the question: "Who does what to whom?" If you use that formula you will always write active sentences.
3. Put this "kicking" action in a simple active verb.
4. Start fast--no slow windups. Stick to the action and avoid opening sentences with phrases like these:
Want more information? Lanham's Revising Prose, a concise and witty guide to style in writing, should be on your bookshelf. You can review a copy at the Writing Center.