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Prose Style: Sentence-Level Clarity

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Transcript of Prose Style: Sentence-Level Clarity

Prose Style: Sentence Clarity
The University Writing Center Presents
The University Writing Center
The Learning Commons at PCL
M-Th 10-8; F 10-4
Sun 1-7PM
512-471-6222
The University Writing Center
Anyone enrolled in a UT undergraduate class
One-on-one expert writing help
45 minute personalized consultations
Any piece of writing at any stage
Non-directive
Non-evaluative
Diagnostic outside readers
Questions?

Comments?

Concerns?
Thanks!
Undergraduate Writing Cener
FAC 211 - 512-471-6222 - uwc.utexas.edu
Created by Tom Lindsay

Last updated by Tom Lindsay, July 2014

Adapted from Joseph M. Williams's
Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace
, 7th ed. (New York: Longman, 2003)
Appointments
, additional information, writing help, and teaching resources available at:
uwc.utexas.edu
Writing in
Process
Preparation
Creation
Revision
Individual
Non-linear
Flexibile
Lengthy
For consultations...
Make an appointment (
online
at uwc.utexas.edu),
Or walk in.
Be sure to bring...
The writing prompt or assignment description,
Your brainstorming notes,
Your current draft,
Instructor comments,
And/or any other materials related to the piece of writing.
Bank of stock frames:
Once upon a time, as a walk was being taken by Little Red Riding

Hood, the Wolf's jump out from behind a tree occurred, causing her a fright.
Once upon a time, as a walk was being taken by Little Red Riding

Hood, the Wolf's jump out from behind a tree occurred, causing her a fright.
(introductory clause)
main action
main action
main action
main character
main character
verb / main action
verb / main action
verb / main action
subject / main character
subject / main character
(prepositional phrase)
verb
subject
subject
verb
verb
Once upon a time, as a walk was being taken by Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf's jump out
from behind a tree occurred, causing her a fright.
What's up with this sentence?
The sentence has grammatical
subjects
and
verbs
.
We tend to read sentences with ease when...
Grammatical
subjects
concisely express
main characters
.
Characters are
flesh-and-blood actors
(i.e. people or animals), or tangible, inanimate things expressed concisely (e.g. "the storm," "cars," "our research," etc.).
Grammatical
verbs
concisely express main
actions
(i.e. actions directly relevant to a sentence's topic).
Grammatical subjects and verbs appear as
close together
and as
early
in the sentence as possible.
Once upon a time, Red Riding Hood was walking

through the woods when the Wolf jumped out from

behind a tree and frightened her.
Let's try this sentence instead:
The Federalists argued that popular democracy destabilized government because they believed that factions tended to further their self-interest at the expense of the common good.
The Federalists’ argument in regard to the destabilization of government by popular democracy was based on their belief in the tendency of factions to further their self-interest at the expense of the common good.
Let's try a more complicated example.
Sentence-Level Clarity
Tips and Tricks
Kinds of speech to look out for...
4
These kinds of speech are necessary and useful. But when writers use them to excess or without care, they can impede or indicate a lack of clarity.
Nominalizations
1
Noun versions of verbs and adjectives.
There has been
speculation
by educators as to the role of a good family environment in the
improvement
of educational achievement.
Educators
have speculated
about how a good family environment
can improve
educational achievement.
Passive Voice
2
"to be verb" + past participle (+ by...)
Often, financial independence
is gained
when skills that the marketplace values
are learned.
When
people gain skills
that the marketplace values,
they typically gain financial independence
.
Long Noun Phrases
3
Noun + noun + noun, usually including nominalizations and prepositions.
The
misdiagnoses of early childhood thought disorder
often results from
unfamiliarity with recent research literature describing such conditions
.

Physicians often misdiagnose
disordered thought in children because
they are unfamiliar with
recent literature on the subject.
Prepositions
4
Words that indicate relations in time and space: “of,” “in,” “by,” “for,” “on,” “with,” etc.
A revision
of
the program will result
in
increases
in
our efficiency
in
the servicing
of
clients.
If
we revise the program
,
we can serve
clients more efficiently.
Sentence-Level Clarity
Strategies for Revision
1.
2.
3.
4.
Diagnose
After any introductory clauses...
Underline the sentence's first seven or eight words.
Look for abstract nouns.
Look for verbs.
Analyze
Who or what is the main character or actor?
What is the grammatical subject?
What is the main action?
What is the grammatical verb?
Do those two pairs of things match?
Edit & Rewrite
Generate a simple noun for the main character.
Generate an
active verb
for the main action.
Mine nominalizations for possible actors or actions.
Cut whatever is unnecessary.
If the sentence implies some unspecified context or actor incorporate them in.
Tip
Often, we hear we should avoid "to be" verbs (e.g. "is," "was," "am," "are") because they are passive.

However, "to be" verbs are only passive when they come before or lack a subject.

Use
"to be"
verbs when the sentence or clause you're writing is about the subject/actor
being
something.

If you can use another verb that is more directly expressive of the sentence's main action, go for that verb instead.
Practice
Use your own work.
Or use some of the sample sentences on the UWC Handout, "Sentence-Level Clarity."
Tip
Did you see how long it took to get to that verb? Readers are like verb zombies. They are hungry for verbs. Give them verbs as quickly in a sentence as possible. Otherwise, they become grumpy zombies.
It is about
characters
and
actions
.
But they don't match up!
Questions?

Comments?

Concerns?
Thanks!
University Writing Center
PCL 2.330 - 512-471-6222 - uwc.utexas.edu
Full transcript