(1) Subject: The actor in a sentence. The person or thing that does something.
Put the subject as close to the front of the sentence as possible.
(2) Strong verb: A verb that describes an action well.
You can use a verb that’s stronger than “do”. Think about what the person did more carefully.
(3) Simple: Not complicated
A simple sentence can express a complicated idea. It’s just best to do it in an uncomplicated way.
1. Which sentence has the clearest subject?
a. The flowers John planted are over there.
b. John planted the flowers over there.
c. Over there are the flowers John planted.
2. Which sentence has the strongest verb?
a. He sprinted to his car.
b. He flew himself to his car.
c. He ran quickly to his car.
3. Which sentence is best?
a. 13 pies were eaten by me.
b. The pies were all eaten. I devoured 13.
c. I ate 13 pies.
By Jeremy Schaar
Make It Simple
When I teach writing classes, those are the three rules that we talk about almost every lesson. If every sentence has a clear subject and a strong verb, you’re doing great. Can you make the sentence simpler? Even better.
Let me give you an example sentence and show you how to make it better using these three rules. You might write this sentence to explain why something is late.
The Tuesday report we always publish wasn’t gotten to on time this week because Jim had some extra work to do.
Can we make it better? Yes.
First, what is the subject of the sentence? I don’t mean the grammatical subject. I mean, who is the actor? Who is doing something?
The answer is Jim. Jim didn’t get to the report on time. Jim had some extra work to do.
But we don’t see the word Jim until the 14th word in the sentence! That makes the subject unclear. Let’s move Jim to the front.
Jim had some extra work to do and that’s why the Tuesday report we always publish wasn’t gotten to on time this week.
Can we make any verb stronger? I think so. Get to is OK, but it just means finish. Let’s use finish instead.
Jim had some extra work to do and that’s why the Tuesday report we always publish wasn’t finished on time this week.
Now, last one. Can we make this sentence simpler? Yes. There are many ways to do this. Here’s one example:
Jim didn’t finish the Tuesday report on time because he had some extra work to do.
Much much better.