Revising for Style: Creating Leaner Sentences

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Revising for Style: Creating Leaner Sentences

LARD VS. LEAN
Read the following sentence pairs to see how revision can replace verbal flab with muscle.

LARDY:

It is my belief that in order to convey vigor, an energetic verb is needed in this particular sentence by the writer of the article in question.

LEAN:

This sentence needs an energetic verb.
(Lard factor = 78%)

LARDY:

In sharp contrast to Morrow's ability to control his mental stability through this type of explicit prose is Cole's inability to even conceive of such forthrightness.

LEAN:

Morrow controls himself through explicit prose; Cole does not even know such directness exists.
(Lard factor = 43%)
[NOTE: Lard factor = (Lardy - Lean) divided by Lardy]

REVISION TIPS: The Paramedic Approach

1. Circle the prepositions (such as of, from, in, to, with).

2. Underline the "be" verb forms (such as is, am, are, was, were, seems to be), especially passive forms (such as is being, has been, will be).

3. Identify the main agent and action of the sentence (Who's kicking whom?)

4. Replace "be" verb forms with an active verb (e.g., change "is kicked by" to "kicked").

5. Start fast-omit mindless introductions or unnecessary qualifiers.

6. Read revised sentence aloud with emphasis and feeling; check for accuracy, completeness and sound. Revise again as needed.

Adapted from Richard Lanham's Revising Prose.

PRACTICE:
Using the steps in the Paramedic Approach, revise the following sentences.

LARDY: I want to try to show that a really good working understanding of the English language is missing from the knowledge of too many applicants for this kind of job.

LEAN: (Compose your own leaner sentence.)

LARDY: The absence of the presence of the thing which is no longer in existence was felt.

LEAN: (Compose your own leaner sentence.)

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
When readers might take offense at a lean sentence, writers may prefer using a lardy version.

LARDY: Spiraling costs and the need to maintain the continued profitability of this division require a termination of employer contributions toward employees' health benefits.

LEAN: To increase profits, we will no longer pay for your health insurance.