Unraveling Adjective-Noun Strings, Reducing Preposition Sprawl
Unravel the following adjective-noun strings.
crude oil output estimation
breeder reactor spent fuel shipping container
complete machine diagnostic message display panel
junction box lay out schematic diagram drawing standards
high frequency transmitter installation cost analysis
polluted mine drainage technique preliminary analysis
electrical equipment grounding conductor configuration
mechanically interlocked flat blade screwdriver removable
piano type hinges
Upstate New York gas processing plant emission reduction
Congratulations; you're becoming an expert at unraveling
adjective-noun strings. Thanks for conserving your reader's mental energy!
Now here's another stylistic technique that will make your sentences
more readable: reducing the number of prepositional phrases per clause.
Reducing Preposition Sprawl
Now that I've advised you to break up those long adjective-noun strings,
I must warn you against creating long strings of prepositional phrases!
Both practices make your prose difficult to read. Check the proportion
of prepositional phrases to clauses. A clause, remember, is simply the
basic formula you need to make a sentence: a subject and a predicate
(a thing and something said about that thing).
More than two or three prepositional phrases per clause
begins to wear on your readers because they're forced to put more and
more material "on hold" as they try to figure out what the phrases modify.
Try wading through this sentence:
"Aside from the need for adjustment of the allocations
to new heads of departments in the company, the proper execution of
all the details of the plan should result in no further increases in
the funds necessary to expend on the implementation of the projects
under the supervision of the various divisions of our organization."
Want to see that again, with the prepositional phrases
flagged? Here you are:
Aside [from the need] [for adjustment] [of the allocations]
[to new heads] [of departments] [in the company], the proper execution
[of all the details] [of the plan] should result [in no further increases]
[in the funds] necessary to expend [on the implementation] [of the projects]
[under the supervision] [of the various divisions] [of our organization].
There is only one genuine clause here: "Proper execution
should result in no further increases"; possibly two if you extract
a clause from the morass of the introductory statement. I deliberately
hung 15 prepositional phrases on them to make my point. Your own prose
will not, I hope, be anywhere near this disproportionate--but at least
do some spot checking. If you find a number of sentences with three
or more prepositional phrases per clause, edit to reduce that proportion.
Just don't do it by creating long adjective-noun strings! Find the Aristotelian
Golden Mean for your own writing--the balance that will make your prose
the best that it can be. Remember to look for the agents who are performing
actions. Sometimes you must "invent" those agents (subjects), as you
learned in Unit 1. Also: don't be afraid to distill some prepositional
phrases into short adjective-noun groups.
Adjust the proportion of prepositional phrases to clauses in the
Give enough space to the override for access by a screwdriver
without causing damage to the pressure valves on the inside of the unit.
Each device on the list from the vendor must be fitted
with a nameplate on the outside of its casing for the purpose of ease
of identification by inspectors.
Little has been said about the use of think tanks as
a means for the development of ideas about the improvement of conditions
for workers in the factories with conditions of the worst kind.
The assumption was relaxed for the invertebrates and
for the fish in order to account for the short life spans of these animals
in the study conducted by the biologists assigned to the area where
pollution from PCBs in the water was in the highest concentration.
Decision makers for the government agencies involved
in studies of the area engaged in a process for determining the impact
of environmental conditions on the health of the flora and fauna in
the wetlands outside the boundaries of the ORR.
Excellent! Now try your hand at unraveling adjective-noun
strings and reducing the number of prepositional phrases in an entire
paragraph. Don't forget the other stylistic skills you've been building.
Type your OWN REVISION before looking at mine. You want to learn to
do this on your own, don't you?
"Monitoring of waters flowing over surface areas in
the interior of ORR boundaries will be accomplished by site-designated
Lockheed Martin state and federal regulation compliance personnel. This
is in conformity with the policies established in agreements with the
representatives of the agencies in the state of Tennessee and at the
federal level with contamination oversight responsibilities for the
safety of the reservation and of the surrounding area. However, comprehensive
ORR subterranean and outside-site follow-through monitoring is mandated
to be accomplished only by federally appointed hazardous waste and contamination
compliance officers. Lockheed Martin employees are instructed to cooperate
to the fullest with those federal contamination compliance officers
at the time of their investigation into the nature and movement of the
contaminants in surface water and under the surface, in and around ORR,
especially those being released from the PCB Abatement Program hazardous
waste area designated holding ponds."
Your own revision WILL NOT be exactly like mine, and
I'm not saying mine is the best possible revision. But I think you'll
agree that it's a distinct improvement over the original. I used active
voice, denominalized (and eliminated fluff verbs), trimmed fat, reduced
jargon, unraveled noun strings, and reduced preposition sprawl. You,
I trust, have done the same. For further practice: find several bloated
paragraphs of prose--perhaps from the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant?--and
work your stylistic magic on them. Your friends, your teachers, and
your boss will be impressed.