It's the [Sentence] Economy Stupid


reviserI recall sitting at my desk one sunny morning back in June, frowning at my computer screen as I reread the first two paragraphs of a blog I had been laboring over for the last hour. This is not working at all, I remember thinking. I’m not saying what I want to say. Or, more accurately, I’m not saying things how I want to say them.

I kept rereading my paragraphs, racking my brain over how I might inject some energy into my writing, bring some much-needed muscle to my bloated diction and flabby sentences. And then I had a minor epiphany: my sentences were dripping with lard. I needed to recast them to make them leaner, more powerful. Or, to modify a political slogan coined by James Carville, a campaign strategist for Bill Clinton, “It’s the [sentence]economy, stupid.”

As student writers gain experience, they learn that sentences often become livelier if you can reduce a relative clause to a short phrase or a single word. In one of my flabby sentences, for example, I saw that I could reduce two sluggish relative clauses (in italics) to a few words:

Fat: The administrators that are responsible for purchasing equipment for the school decided to buy new tablets to replace the desktop computers that were bulky and totally obsolete.

Fit: The school administrators decided to buy new tablets to replace the bulky, obsolete desktop computers.

Removing even a trace of lard results in a healthier sentence. In this case, we’ve liposuctioned away half the bulk. The result speaks for itself.
Of course, to employ my sentence-fitness regime, students must be able to identify relative clauses. And this is precisely where Writing Navigator can help. If students open Writing Reviser and select Sentence Economy from the menu, they’ll will find five options for improving their sentences, such as eliminating wordiness and cutting needless prepositional phrases. If they select Relative Clauses, Writing Reviser will highlight those clauses in the draft. Students can then use the accompanying instructional information to revise their sentences by typing directly in the draft.

And if you have inexperienced student writers who need practice reducing relative clauses, you’re in luck. SAS Curriculum Pathways offers two lessons that show students how to unclog their prose arteries by reducing these clauses. Like a surgeon (or a butcher), a student writer needs the right tools to get the job done.

Check out these related resources:

Clean Up Those Relative Clauses That Clog Your Sentences
Can That Be Compressed?

And remember—the Writing Reviser is now available as a free Google Docs Add-on!



About Author

Terry Hardison

Terry Hardison oversees the development of English language arts resources for Curriculum Pathways. Prior to joining SAS, Terry worked for 21 years as a teacher and as a district-level English language arts supervisor.

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