Problems with Too Few Characters


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 critique it.


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:
 
Diagnosis

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?
 
Revision

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 active form.

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 only implied 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
 
Example

[a] Utilization on an unlimited basis is permitted.

[b] However, prior EGP registration is required before any contact with the Legal Referral Service.
 
Diagnose

You have a problem with too few characters because you have

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, is.

3. N/A
 
Revise

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 draw on your background knowledge of the context in order to identify the character-agents implied in the sentence. Write down your WHO-WHAT pairs.

WHO: EMPLOYEES and their IMMEDIATE FAMILIES use

INFORMATION CONCEPTS permits


---> 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.

[b] However, you must first register with HG each time you contact the Legal Referral Service.