1.  Use the active voice with strong verbs.

 

Change the following sentences from the passive voice (where the subject is acted upon) to the active voice (where the subject performs the action).

 

For example, change “The market’s advances are often driven by large-capitalization stocks” to “Large-capitalization stocks often drive the market’s advances.”

 

1.       An investment was made by me.

 

2.       A decision was made by the board to exclude the press and wear Hawaiian shirts when voting on important matters.

 

3.       Holdings among rate-sensitive stocks were reduced by the portfolio manager.

 

4.       In preparation for next month’s meeting, a shirt with yellow flowers and a green background was purchased by Roger Chillingworth.

 

5.       We are now permitted by the Securities and Exchange Commission to combine mailings of certain materials. 

 

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1.       I made an investment.

 

2.       The board decided to exclude the press and wear Hawaiian shirts when voting on important matters.

 

3.       The portfolio manager reduced holdings among rate-sensitive stocks.

 

4.       In preparation for next month’s meeting, Roger Chillingworth purchased a shirt with yellow flowers and a green background.

 

5.       The Securities and Exchange Commission now permits us to combine mailings of certain materials. 

 

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2.  Find hidden verbs.

 

Many thoughts can be expressed either with verbs (such as “recommend”) or with nouns linked to weak verbs (such as “make a recommendation”).  Choosing the verb rather than the noun usually produces a more concise, emphatic sentence.

 

A noun derived from a verb is called a nominalization.  In the sentences below, change the nominalizations to verbs. 

 

For example, change “The board came to the realization that it needed to spiff up its image” to “The board realized that it needed to spiff up its image.”

 

1.       Waldo made a search for the hidden profit.

 

2.       “So, now, do you stand in agreement with me, then?” the governor asked the legislature.

 

3.       I came to the realization that the Fund’s performance is a reflection of the maximum sales charge of 5%.

 

4.       We have the expectation that the global economy will continue to make a recovery.

 

5.       There is a possibility of board rejection of “colorful casuals.” 

 

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1.       Waldo searched for the hidden profit.

 

2.       “So, now, do you agree with me, then?” the governor asked the legislature.

 

3.       I realized that the Fund’s performance reflects the maximum sales charge of 5%.

 

4.       We expect the global economy to continue to recover.

 

5.       The board may reject “colorful casuals.” 

 

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3.  Try personal pronouns.

 

Use personal pronouns (such as “I,” “we,” and “you”) to avoid abstractions and to speak directly to your reader. 

 

For example, change “The volatility of the market should be taken under consideration by short-term investors in the selection and purchase of stocks” to “If you are a short-term investor, you should consider the volatility of the market when you select which stocks to purchase.”

 

Revise the following sentence:

 

It is our belief that, based on an assessment of the accounting principles used and a review of the significant estimates made by management, as well as an evaluation of the overall financial statement presentation, our audits provide a reasonable basis on which recommendations are made.

 

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After assessing the accounting principles used, reviewing the significant estimates made by management, and evaluating the financial statement, we believe our recommendations are reasonable.

 

OR

 

We believe our audits support our recommendations for the following reasons:  (1) We have assessed the accounting principles used; (2) we have reviewed the significant estimates made by management; and (3) we have evaluated the financial statement. 

 

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4.  Bring abstractions down to earth.

 

Prefer simple language and concrete terms to abstractions.  For example, change “The Boomer Fund has achieved capital appreciation of your funds” to “The value of your shares in the Boomer Fund has increased.”

 

Revise the following sentences:

 

1.       There is a frequent nonconcurrence in perspectives between the committee chair and the speaker.

 

2.       A cacophonous manifestation of tempers erupted between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

 

3.       Your financial adviser should not be held accountable in the event you experience a decline in investment income or a net loss in total assets. 

 

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1.       The committee chair and the speaker frequently disagree.

 

2.       Tweedledum and Tweedledee started shouting at each other.

 

3.       Don’t blame us if you lose money. 

 

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5.  Omit superfluous words.

 

Make every word count.  Concise writing is clearer and more emphatic than wordy writing.  Change “In view of the fact that your reader is busy, I would suggest that you make every effort to be as brief as humanly possible” to “Because your reader is busy, I suggest that you try to be brief.” 

 

In Plain English for Lawyers, Richard Wydick makes the point this way:  “Pity the reader.”

 

Eliminate the unnecessary words in the following sentences:

 

1.       In the eventuality that you encounter unexpected and otherwise unforeseeable problems, please apprise me of the situation.

 

2.       It is expected by the board that the governor will assume the duties and responsibilities of a stockbroker subsequent to his departure from office.

 

3.       In order to make progress in improving your writing skills, it is imperative that you devote yourself to the study of the principles of good writing. 

 

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1.       Let me know if you have any problems.

 

2.       The board expects the governor to become a stockbroker after that person leaves office. 

[Note that the active voice is more concise than the passive voice.]

 

3.       To improve your writing skills, you must study the principles of good writing.  

 

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6.  Write in the “positive.”

 

As a rule, it takes fewer words to say what something is than to say what it is not.

 

For example, change “Advisers who do not take time to study financial statements do not have more credibility than those who do,” to “Financial advisers who take time to study financial statements have more credibility than those who don’t.”

 

Revise the following sentences:

 

1.       My nose is not unlike a red, red rose.

 

2.       You may not receive these dividends unless you are the primary beneficiary.

 

3.       Whose woods these are I do not think I do not know.

 

4.       Not often does the S&P 500 Index decline by more than 5% in one day.

 

5.       Not many investors enjoy wildly fluctuating markets. 

 

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1.       My nose is like a red, red rose.

 

2.       You may receive these dividends only if you are the primary beneficiary.

 

3.       Whose woods these are I think I know.

 

4.       Rarely does the S&P 500 Index decline by more than 5% in one day.

 

5.       Few investors enjoy wildly fluctuating markets. 

 

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7.  Use short sentences.

 

The period provides a critical pause, a moment of reflection, an opportunity for your hard-working reader to ponder your meaning, admire your insight, bask in your brilliance, and absorb your wisdom. 

 

The period is a marvelous device.  Use it often to punctuate your thoughts. 

 

Break the following long sentences into shorter units:

 

1.       According to Nancy Smith, Director, Office of Investor Education and Assistance, three people, Ann Wallace, from the Division of Corporation Finance, Carolyn Miller, formerly of Siegel & Gale and now with the SEC, and William Lutz, author and Professor of English at Rutgers University, poured their hearts and minds into the plain English handbook that inspired me to create these exercises, which you are enjoying as well as finding useful, I hope, and so all of the credit and none of the blame goes to them.

 

2.       It’s a simple process:  After the portfolio managers find companies with the dual attraction of dependable earnings growth and attractive valuations by focusing on their long-term underlying worth, they ascertain the underlying worth of those companies by carefully comparing the value of their corporate assets with their potential returns before determining if a company’s stock is mispriced relative to that underlying worth.  Even people who are a few sandwiches short of a picnic should be able to understand it. 

 

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1.       Nancy Smith, Director, Office of Investor Education and Assistance, acknowledges three people:  Ann Wallace, from the Division of Corporation Finance; Carolyn Miller, formerly of Siegel & Gale and now with the SEC; and William Lutz, author and Professor of English at Rutgers University.  They poured their hearts and minds into the plain English handbook.  According to Smith, all of the credit and none of the blame should go to them.  I agree.  In fact, their effort inspired me to create these exercises, which I hope you are enjoying as well as finding useful.

 

2.       It’s a simple process:  First, the portfolio managers find companies with the dual attraction of dependable earnings growth and attractive valuations.  They do this by focusing on their long-term underlying worth, which they ascertain by carefully comparing the value of corporate assets with potential returns.  Then they determine if a company’s stock is mispriced relative to that underlying worth.  Even people who are a few sandwiches short of a picnic should be able to understand it.

 

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8.  Keep the subject, verb, and object close together.

 

Readers cannot make sense of your sentence until they see how the subject relates to the verb and the verb relates to its object, so keep those critical parts within sight of each other.

 

For example, change “Portfolio managers responding to the interest-rate rise reduced among rate-sensitive stocks such as banks and credit card companies holdings” to “In response to the interest-rate rise, portfolio managers reduced holdings among rate-sensitive stocks such as banks and credit card companies.”

 

Rearrange the following sentences to keep their subjects, verbs, and objects close together:

 

1.       Tropical colors, you may not think, and gray hair, which our board members have, go well together, but they surprisingly do.

 

2.       Management, anticipating reform in health care, decreased what people in the business like to call “exposure” to things like pharmaceuticals

 

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1.       You may not think that tropical colors and our board members’ gray hair go well together, but surprisingly they do.

 

2.       Anticipating reform in health care, management decreased exposure to pharmaceuticals

 

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9.  Keep your sentence structure parallel.

 

Once you establish a pattern, you must stay with it.  Your reader expects consistency.  If Benjamin Franklin had said, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a young man (or woman) healthy, wealthy, and a stockbroker,” we wouldn’t be quoting him today.

 

Change “If you want to find out more about our offerings, visit our Web site after calling our toll free number with a request for a password,” to “If you want to find out more about our offerings, call our toll free number, request a password, and visit our Web site.”

 

Revise the following sentences to maintain parallel structure:

 

1.       She was healthy, wealthy, and an athlete.

 

2.       For additional information about this fund, you may call the Securities and Exchange Commission at 1-800-SEC-0330, or what you might want to do is access other information about the fund on the Commission’s Internet site at http://www.sec.gov.

 

3.       Our governor can beat up your governor, eat more than your governor, and he talks louder than your governor. 

 

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1.       She was healthy, wealthy, and athletic.

 

2.       For additional information about this fund, you may call the Securities and Exchange Commission at 1-800-SEC-0330, or you may access the Commission’s Internet site at http://www.sec.gov.

 

3.       Our governor [Jesse Ventura] can beat up your governor, eat more than your governor, and talk louder than your governor. 

 

Once more from the top

The SEC’s A Plain English Handbook

More exercises on concise writing: Techniques to eliminate wordiness
 


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