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Let it flow

Ever think of redundancy or stacking when writing a text or revising or editing somebody else’s text? Or the subjects, characters, and actions in your sentences? I do now, after attending a lovely brain-stretching English workshop in the Language Centre of Helsinki University under the theme Let it Flow.

Redundancy means too many words that mean the same thing repeated over and over again, making texts too long and thus harder to understand. We need to watch out for expletives that are not necessary for conveying the core meaning of our messages. For example, “there is the fact that” or “it is a question of whether”.

Many times we use meaningless words just to give ourselves more time to think in the process of writing. This is why, no matter how proficient we are in a language or subject matter, it is a good idea to always use a second pair of eyes, an editor, before publishing anything to others. Why should your audience suffer because of your working process? They just want to find out, as effortlessly as possible, what you are saying. Always stay on the reader’s side is a good motto for any writer.

For example, why say “in close proximity to” when you can say near, “at that point of time” when you can say then, or “due to the fact that” when you can simply say because. Why? Because using complicated language makes us feel more important! It’s a psychological thing. After understanding this, we should feel confident that what we say is so important that we don’t need to build extra importance to our sentences by using complicated structures, difficult words, too many words, or trendy buzzwords.

The first principles are to know what you are writing about and how to relate the elements of your sentences with one another. Compare the following two sentences:

  1. The Committee proposal would provide for biogenetic industry certification of the safety to human health for new substances requested for exemption from Federal rules.
  2. The Committee proposes that when the biogenetic industry requests the Agency to exempt new substances from Federal rules, the industry will certify that the substances are safe.

Which one is easier to understand? The second one, right? And why? Because it presents clear subjects, characters, and actions for us to make the right connections for understanding the message in our brains. Regardless of our education or competence (buzzword bingo!), as representatives of the human species we all read and understand sentences according to the same cognitive principles of coherence and causality. Long live the subject, predicate and object! And let it flow.

Thank you Julie and Lisa for great material and inspiration.


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