Use the active voice
Using an active voice in your essays is a must. The definition in active voice means constructing sentences where the subject “acts”. An active voice example is:
- I threw the ball.
The subjects (I) performs the action of the verb (threw). An active voice vs a passive voice, creates clear and concise sentences.
Passive voice definition means constructing sentences where the subject is “passive” – acted upon, rather than the agent of action. This style can become confusing or simply dull. A passive voice example is:
- The ball was thrown by me.
The subject (“the ball”) is being acted upon by the verb (thrown). Changing the sentence to: the ball was thrown creates more action and activity.
Using active verbs is essential if you want to write with a direct authoritative style. Definition of an action verb is simply a physical action that a person or thing can do.
Examples of action verb sentences are:
- The alarm clock buzzed like an angry bumblebee.
- Michelle giggles at every joke.
- Ryan sprints to catch the football across the stadium.
Sentence length is crucial to good essay writing. Avoiding wordy phrases creates concise language and a more direct flow. A phrase alternative is:
- Wordy: “It is the opinion of our professor that we have failed to meet his expectations”.
- Better: “Our professor believes we have failed to meet his expectations”
- Best: “We have failed to meet our professor’s expectations.”
Try to keep the action of a sentence clear by using clear and concise sentences.
Instead of: Use:
is aware of, has knowledge of knows
is taking takes
are indications of indicates
are suggestive of suggest
Generally prepositional phrases have no verbs and contain an adjective, noun, pronoun or a gerund (-ing word). The noun or pronoun is the object of the preposition. These phrases can often create wordy sentences in your writing. Examples of prepositional phrases:
- over the hill
- behind the door
- at Mary’s house
- without your coat
- during lunch
- atop Mount Everest
An advantage to recognize prepositional phrases in sentences is that neither the subject nor the verb will ever be a part of the prepositional phrase. Example:
- “The coat on the chair is mine.”
If we eliminate the prepositional phrase, “on the chair” then we can easily see that coat is the object and is is the verb.
An expletive construction occurs when the words “there” and “it” are followed by a to be verb such as is, was or were. Expletive sentences are best to avoid because they only add extra baggage. “There are . . . that” and “it is . . . that” can almost always be eliminated. What You should use are clear and concise sentences.
- There were ten students in Mrs. Robinson’s class.
- It was obvious that the students were cheating on the exam.
- There were ten students in Mrs. Robinson’s class who were obviously cheating on the exam.
- Ten students were in Mrs. Robinson’s class.
- The students were obviously cheating on the exam.
- Ten students in Mrs. Robinson’s class were obviously cheating on the exam.
Nouns that are broad and undefined fall into the vague category. These are words like stuff, things, people, everyone, no one, guys, girls, men, women, kids, animals, them, they, etc.
Here’s an example:
Vague: Brenda came in and dropped her stuff on the table.
Specific: Brenda came and dropped her backpack on the table.
Replacing stuff with backpack changes the direction of the sentence completely. It adds more description for the reader, instead of question to the sentence.
Sentences with abstract nouns also leave the reader with a question mark. Abstract nouns are ones your five senses cannot detect. You cannot see them, hear them, smell them, taste them, or feel them. You should use concrete nouns instead, which are more relative to the reader.
Avoid pretentious language, which can be viewed as pompous, inflated language. If you want your essay easily understood, write as clearly and plainly as possible. Examples of inflated words:
Inflated: cognizant of
Simple: aware of, knows
Inflated: subsequent to
Noun strings are sentences that use ALL nouns in an attempt to modify a single word. These strings, like jargon, are common in technical departments (government, science, etc). They may sound impressive, but often times create confusion for the reader.
Noun string example:
Employee compensation level evaluation procedures.
Procedures for evaluating the compensation level of employees.
By simply changing the order of the words, you are able to get your point across a lot easily and without clutter.