Education / Education
How To Brighten Your Style - Part 2: Writing clear, concise sentences

by Cheryl and Peter Reimold
Perc Com.

A sentence can be beautiful or boring, but its most important criterion in business writing is that it transmit the writer's thought quickly and correctly. You can ensure that your sentences meet this need by following these three simple rules.

1.0 Put only one message in a sentence.

Please read the following sentence once. Then close your eyes and restate the message.
It should further be noted and is described in detail in the application that the ABC woodyard, as all woodyards, can only be expected to discharge in times of great precipitation, when any impact on the woodyard's discharge would furthermore be minimal compared to the effect of runoff from the surrounding areas.

Well? Was it enjoyable? To encourage people to read what we have written, we must make the transfer of thought easy and pleasant. This means one thought to a sentence. The sentence above contains at least five messages:

  1. You should pay attention to the information that follows.
  2. The application describes this information in detail.
  3. The ABC woodyard will discharge only in times of great precipitation.
  4. This is true of all woodyards.
  5. In heavy rain, runoff from the surrounding areas has a greater effect than the discharge from the woodyard.

Decide what you want to stress and put only that in your sentence. Extra information that you think may be useful can follow.

2.0 Put the essence of your message into the main parts of the sentence: the subject, verb, and object (if there is one).

Consider this sentence:
The fact that we had a new manager had the effect of initiating many changes in the department.

Now, let's strip it down to the basics. The subject of the sentence is fact, the verb is had, and the object is effect. Together, they give us the following message: Fact had effect.

Hm. This has no meaning, let alone immediacy or accuracy.

Now let's rewrite the sentence, putting the essence of the message into the subject, verb, and object:
The new manager initiated many changes in the department.

Stripped down to the basics of subject, verb, and object, the message is this: Manager initiated changes. That is, indeed, the essence of the message we wished to convey.

3.0 Use no useless words.

Words that add no significant information have no place in your sentences. How many words could you remove from this sentence?
Considering all the dimensions involved, the Departmental Task Force set out to develop a productivity measurement system that would be a tool plant management could use to guide decisionmaking and to direct action toward successful productivity improvement.

Well, first we have to decide what the message is. We decided it was the following -- and we removed 17 words.
The Departmental Task Force set out to develop a system that plant management could use to measure and improve productivity.

Next time we'll see how to connect effective sentences.

Cheryl and Peter Reimold (telephone 1+ 914-725-1024, e-mail perccom@ have taught communication skills to engineers, scientists, and businesspeople for 18 years. Visit their new educational web site at

This article is the second in a series of “tips and techniques” for the purpose of assisting you in developing an effective communication style. We hope that this series will be of value to you professionally and personally. We value your feedback.

IEEE Canadian Review La revue canadienne de l'IEEE Summer / Été 2002 No. 41

Last update - 2002,07,09 - la dernière mise à jour