Tuesday, 12 June 2012 05:33

Editing - Tutorial No. 4

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Here's a sentence from an annual report. It shows how a string of prepositional phrases can submerge an important word:

Key drivers of the Group's earnings were continued leadership in Business Banking combined with strong growth in deposits and mortgages in Personal Banking. 

Start the edit by highlighting the subject in blue and the verb in red:

Key drivers of the Group's earnings were continued leadership in Business Banking combined with strong growth in deposits and mortgages in Personal Banking. 

This sentence is telling us that 'drivers were …' something. In fact, since these are plurals, it's telling us that 'drivers were …' at least two things. In a sentence like this, the things 'drivers were …' are called predicate nouns. (Although they could just as easily be predicate pronouns or predicate modifiers.) We'll put the predicate nouns in purple.

Key drivers of the Group's earnings were continued leadership in Business Banking combined with strong growth in deposits and mortgages in Personal Banking. 

Oops. The only predicate noun available is 'leadership'. Stripped to its grammatical essence, the sentence reads like this:

driverswereleadership

This is what I call the story line of a sentence. It contains only the subject(s), verb(s), direct object(s), predicate noun(s), predicate pronoun(s) and/or predicate modifier(s). That's all. Everything else in the sentence modifies a word on the story line.

I think the writer of this sentence intended the story line to look like this:

Driverswereleadership … and growth

He or she was undone by writing '…combined with…' instead of simply '…and…'. The wordy version downgrades 'growth' from a story-line word to a mere object of the preposition 'with'.

Good editing is often much more than merely reducing the word count. Done with grammatical awareness, good editing can strengthen the structure of your sentences.

Here's the sentence, edited:

Key drivers of the Group's earnings were continued leadership in Business Banking and strong growth in deposits and mortgages in Personal Banking. 

It is now crystal clear that the two drivers of earnings were leadership and growth.

See this in more detail in the video tutorial:

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John Hancock

John Hancock, author