As a professional, you'll
revise both your own and others' written work. How can you tell
if a document contains too few characters?
At first you may have trouble recognizing that you have used too
few characters. So we offer the same advice in this session as we
did in the last: read your writing aloud or get others to read and
More specifically, when you read and revise your own and others'
professional writing, you can use the following guidelines to determine
if there is a problem with too few characters:
1. Draw a line under the first six or seven words. Are
no characters named? Or, if you do find a character named, is it
after the preposition "by" or "of," or is it
in the possessive?
2. Circle the verbs. Are they unspecific and/or passive – "have," "make," "do," "be," "occurs," "was
allowed," "is needed," etc.?
3. Underline possessive nouns. Are most of them before nominalizations?
1. Write down the main action of the sentence–
WHAT is going on? Since obscure sentences often hide their actions
in nominalizations, transform those problematic nominalizations
into verbs. Also write down any verbs that are passive, in their
2. Determine the agent of the action – WHO is performing
the action? First look for the agent among the characters actually
named in the sentence. If that fails, draw on your background
knowledge of the context in order to identify the characters
in the sentence. Write down your WHO-WHAT pairs.
3. Try out a series of logical frames for these character-action,
subject-verb pairs. What you're actually doing here is using
a common set of connector words to paraphrase the sentence:
Since _______ , _______ .
_______, because _______ .
Although _______ , _______ .
Before/after/when/where _______ , _______ .
Nevertheless/however, _______ .
Problems with Too Few Characters: An Example
[a] Utilization on an unlimited basis is permitted.
However, prior EGP registration is required before any contact
with the Legal Referral Service.
You have a problem with too few characters because you
1. Found no human characters in the first seven words: Utilization
on an unlimited basis is permitted.. . . ; However, prior EGP registration
is required. . . .
2. Found that the verbs are not specific and/or passive: is permitted,
1. Write down the main actions of each sentence—
WHAT is going on? Transform problematic nominalizations into verbs,
and write down any verbs that are passive.
WHAT: utilization ---> utilize
---> use (omit jargon)
is permitted ---> permit
WHAT: registration ---> register
requirement ---> require
contact ---> contact
2. Determine the agent of the actions
(the WHO). Since no characters are actually named, you have to
on your background knowledge of the context in order to identify
the character-agents implied in the sentence. Write down your
WHO: EMPLOYEES and their IMMEDIATE FAMILIES use
---> YOU and your IMMEDIATE FAMILY may use
WHO: EMPLOYEES register
INFORMATION CONCEPTS requires
---> YOU must register
WHO: EMPLOYEES contact
---> YOU contact
3. Try out a series of logical frames
for these character-action, subject-verb pairs:
[a] You and
your immediate family may use
the Legal Referral Service on an unlimited basis.
must first register with HG each time you contact the
Legal Referral Service.