HOMEWORK: Clarity Workshop

Clear Writing
Please make a word document to record your responses to all of the following tasks.
Explaining all of your ideas is not about how many words you dedicate to those ideas. It’s about how efficiently and effectively you express them. There are four wordy writing habits we’re going to work on in this workshop, and I’ll to show you how to fix them.
Keep your subjects and verbs together. We often write the way we talk, and talk the way we think. We think in associations, building ideas onto one another as they come to us. But in writing, these associations don’t make much sense to a reader, so we need to organize our language more carefully. Take this example:
The thing that bothered her most when her family went to the small town in Kansas every year to see her grandparents was how crowded the small house was. (29 words)
The way it’s written, the subject is “thing” or “the thing that bothered her.” But the verb is the first “was,” which is almost at the end of the sentence. The clause “when her family went to the small town in Kansas every year to see her grandparents,” is a setting description that doesn’t belong between the subject and verb. To shorten the sentence, and make it less confusing, we need to put the subject and verb together.
When her family visited her grandparents in the small Kansas town each year, it bothered her that the small house was so crowded. (23 words, and easier to understand)
Here, we’ve placed the setting at the beginning to create the scene, and kept the new subject “it,” with the verb, “bothered.”
Let’s practice: rewrite the following sentence by placing the subject and verb together.
The problem with the house on the lake where her father grew up was that no one had taken care of it for years.

Avoid passive voice. Passive voice is another common writing mistake, but its confusing because its technically correct. It does have some effective purposes, but because it’s less direct and uses more words, it’s rarely useful in these short personal essays. Take this example:
When the job was passed down to her by her predecessor, she was struggling to live up to his legacy. (20 words)
The subject in this sentence is “job,” and the verb is “was passed down.” But the job didn’t do the action, “her predecessor” did the action and should be the subject, and “job” should be the object. Our brains like to be able to picture what we’re reading, so passive voice throws off your reader, as they struggle to imagine the subject doing the action. Instead, move your true subject to the beginning.
When her predecessor passed the job down to her, she was struggling to live up to his legacy. (18 words)
Now “predecessor” is the subject and “passed” is the verb. Your reader can picture the previous employee leaving their position and training our main character at her job. If you’re not sure if you’re using passive voice, look for the word “by.” It’s often a sign that you’re in passive voice.
Let’s practice: rewrite the following sentence by eliminating the passive voice.
The dark coffee was drank by the woman in the corner.

Choose active verbs. Not all verbs are created equal. Readers respond to the most direct and specific verbs possible. It helps them picture the scene. With a little bit of creativity, you can make your sentences more engaging, and usually shorter. Let’s stick with our last example and see if we can make it even better:
When her predecessor passed the job down to her, she was struggling to live up to his legacy. (18 words)
We have two subjects and two verbs in this sentence. “She” is the primary subject and the verb is “was struggling.” The secondary subject is “predecessor” and their verb is “passed the job down.” To make the sentence even more concise and direct, let’s combine our subjects and use more specific verbs.
When she inherited the job from her predecessor, she struggled to live up to his legacy. (16 words)
In the first half of the sentence, we’ve made the subject consistent with the second half. And instead of the lengthy phrase “passed the job down,” we’re able to use the more direct “inherited.” In the second half, we’ve saved a word in the sentence just by eliminating “was” and replacing it with the more powerful word “struggled.”
Let’s practice: rewrite the following sentence with more active verbs.
The garden out front was thriving in the open sun, but the flowers in the back began to wilt in the shade.
Avoid nominalizations. A nominalization is when a verb is turned into a noun, usually through the suffixes “tion” or “sion.” Some examples are: Conclude – conclusion, indicate – indication, demonstrate – demonstration, intend – intention, discriminate – discrimination, expand – expansion, interfere – interference. When we do this in our writing, the noun requires more words around it to create an active sentence. For example:
The news was a complication for their plans to be a transformation in the field. (15 words)
This sentence has two nominalizations — “complication” and “transformation.” If we turn them back into verbs, we can eliminate a lot of unnecessary words.
The news complicated their plans to transform the field. (9 words)

Let’s practice: rewrite the following sentence without nominalizations.
They had some arguments about the company finances, so they made the decision to hire an accountant.

Using the techniques above and other ideas you might have, cut the following paragraph to less than 80 words.
They had begun planting vegetables as a distraction to keep busy during the pandemic. The problem with the new project that they had taken on was that they were starting a little too late in the summer. The green beans were scorched by the heat, so a sun shade to protect them was made by Taylor. It was a disappointment that some of them still died, even though she was able to save most of them. In the backyard, they tried to grow wildflowers as an attraction for bees and butterflies, but the sprouts were eaten by rabbits. These problems were complications with their project, but it still excited them when they were able to eat grape tomatoes and squash that they had grown themselves.
Great! Now cut it to 60 words. You’ll have to make some tough decisions about the most important information.
Copy and paste your essay draft into a new document. Under the “Review” tab, turn on “Track Changes.” This will track the changes that you make. Using [Command F], search for the word “was” in your draft. “Was” is not always a bad word to use in your writing, but it’s a good sign that one of the problems we’ve worked on is taking place.
Your assignment is to try and eliminate as many instances of “was” as possible by rewriting your sentences with the techniques we’ve practiced here. When you’re done, please submit the document on Canvas.

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