12/08/13: Week 4
Style Guidelines with Dr Glen Thomas:
This lecture covers the guidelines used to improve the clarity of writing.
There are times when you wish to obscure meanings etc, but you should know how to make clear, as
well. Here, style refers to clarity, and clarity means reducing the amount of work must do to
understand the point. These, however, are guidelines, not rules, which means that sometimes they
won’t apply. Where possible, make the point with minimum fuss. Consider Hemmingway’s short
story. “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn”.
The guidelines in the textbook are to make the verb work, to put the important information up front,
and a few other guidelines.
Where possible, use the active voice. In English, there are two voices: the active and the passive. In
the active voice, the actor is in the subject position. For example, “George wrote the novel”. In the
passive voice, the actor is placed in the object position, or omitted entirely for example “The novel
was written by George” or “The novel was written”. Passive voice is the general practice in science
reports, but you generally want to avoid it. A sentence without an actor is called an agentless
student. Passive voice generally increases the length of a sentence, and reduces the impact.
To make a sentence active, ask “Who or what is doing this?” and then put that person, place or thing
at the start of the sentence, followed by the verb, then the rest should follow.
There are times when the passive voice is aceeptable, such as when you wish to conceal mistakes, to
be polite, to avoid assigning blame, and when you don’t know who the actor is.
A nominalisation is where a verb is changed into a noun. This is avoided if it is not necessary,
because it removes the action from the verb and makes actions into the names of things. This means
that writing becomes difficult to read. Consider the sentence “The examination of the evidence was
conducted after the application of the solution to the tissue sample” which could be rewritten to say
“He applied the solution to the tissue sample, then examined the evidence”. This renders the
sentence shorter and easier to read. The actor can be a person, or something more abstract. The
same rules apply in creative writing.
You can change nominalisations by looking for words ending in –ion or –ity or –ment or similar.
Then, change the noun into a verb. Give the verb form as subject. This isn’t always possible, since in
corporate situations, there is often no ‘author’ of a document. Some words are difficult to re-verb,
such as information.
Too many nominal will lead to noun clusters,