Tag Archives: descriptive phrases

Commas with That and Which


I’ll answer two questions at the same time. Do you use that or which? Do you need commas with that and which?

To answer both questions, you need to understand restrictive and non-restrictive phrases and clauses. Here are the answers in brief.

1. Use which and commas with non-restrictive phrases and clauses.
2. Use that and no commas with restrictive phrases and clauses.

Now, let find out why.

Restrictive phrases and clauses: A restrictive phrase or clause points out which thing you are writing about.

Let’s say you have four filing cabinets in your office and that all but one cabinet is locked. The unlocked cabinet is the one next to the window. You need someone to come and lock the cabinet because you don’t have a key.

You decide to send an e-mail to the maintenance office. You need to tell the maintenance officer which cabinet is unlocked. You correctly write this statement:

“Please come to my office as soon as possible and lock the cabinet that is next to the window.” (The restrictive phrase is underlined.)  Continue reading

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8 Sentence Patterns for Academic and Technical Writing


(From Concise Guide to Technical and Academic Writing.)

An expert academic or technical writer needs only a few basic sentence patterns to produce easy-to-understand writing. Each of the sentence patterns below will result in clear academic or technical writing. However, do not use any one pattern more than twice in a row to prevent the writing from sounding repetitive and boring. Also, use the more complex sentence patterns less frequently. They are more challenging for the reader and may make the writing overall more complex than necessary.

All effective sentence patterns start with the Subject-Verb-Object (S-V-O) sentence structure. Optional components are additional S-V-O structures and descriptive words, phrases, and clauses (D), which can be placed in various locations.

In the samples below, the subjects are underlined, and the main verbs are in italics.

1. Simple sentence (S-V-O): A simple sentence has one subject–verb pair. It starts with the subject (or an adjective and the subject). The subject is immediately followed by the verb (or an adverb and the verb). A simple sentence may contain an object.

Example 1: The computer desktop provides access to your files. Continue reading

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Writing Style and Language Complexity


Writing style comprises four characteristics:

  1. Formality
  2. Language complexity
  3. Objectivity, and
  4. Information depth.

The purpose you are trying to accomplish, the readers’ needs, your relationship with the reader, and the type of document affect the style in which you write. Style is a strategy for effective writing, not a goal.

Levels of Language Complexity 

Some writers use simple, straightforward sentences with few modifying phrases and clauses. Others use complex sentences with many modifiers, interjected descriptions, and multiple clauses and phrases.

Simple sentence example: “Lisa bought a red car.”

This simple sentence contains a simple subject (“Lisa”) and a simple predicate with an object (“bought a red car”). This sentence has two modifying words (“a,” “red”) but no other phrases or clauses.

Moderately complex sentence example: “When the day ended, Lisa, a sales clerk at the downtown market, bought a red car.”

This moderately complex sentence has an introductory descriptive clause (“when the day ended”), a simple subject (“Lisa”), an appositive for the subject (“a sales clerk at the downtown market”), and a simple predicate with an object (“bought a red car”).

Very complex sentence example: “When the day ended, which couldn’t have happened soon enough, given the type of day she had had, Lisa, a sales clerk at the downtown market, a grimy, dark nook in an old building, bought what she mistakenly thought was a new, or, at the worst, slightly used, red car.”

This complex sentence has an introductory descriptive clause (“when the day ended”), a description of the introductory clause (“which couldn’t have happened soon enough”), a description of the description of the introductory clause (“given the type of day she had had”), a subject (“Lisa”), an appositive for the subject (“a sales clerk at the downtown market”), a description of the appositive for the subject (“a grimy, dark nook”), a description of the description of the appositive for the subject (“in an old building”). And then we finally get to the predicate, which is similarly complicated.

Key Features of Language Complexity

As these three examples show, the 2 key features of language complexity are

  1. the number of descriptive phases and clauses and
  2. the levels of description (such as description of description).

A careful writer considers sentence complexity in light of the readers’ needs. Simple sentences can be read quickly and understood easily. As sentences become more complex, they contain more information and “flavor,” but they require more work from the readers and increase the potential for misunderstanding.

Advice for Writers

As with all style issues, the level of language complexity needs to fit the readers’ needs. Simple sentences are the most easy to understand. They present minimal information in a straightforward manner, with no interruptions in the main thought being communicated. On the other hand, using too many simple sentences, or a string of simple sentences, makes the writing appear amateurish.

For technical manuals, lists of instructions, user guides, and other documents that present single action steps, stick with simple sentences. For most other types of documents, the writer can present more complex information and create better reader interest and engagement by using a mix of simple and moderately complex sentences.

If your goal is reader understanding and interest, avoid very complex sentences. Overall, you will communicate best by

  • using a mix of simple and moderately complex sentences,
  • limiting the number of descriptive phrases,
  • presenting only one descriptive phrase at a time, and
  • avoiding descriptions of descriptions.

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