E11: Robust Subjects and Verbs

Toxic Elements

Common phrases can kill good prose. Below is an opening paragraph that displays some toxic elements that a good revision will eliminate.

THERE IS / THERE ARE / IT IS
Too many sentences begin with, or contain “There is” or “there are” or “it is” components. “Is” is the weakest verb. The weakest sentence is one that establishes that something “is.”

The best a writer can hope to accomplish with such an opening is to tell readers that something exists.

Unless your subject’s very identity needs to be established, revise your sentence so that your strongest subject completes the most robust action.

ALL FLAWED:
It is said to be the case that taxes depress the economy.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that taxes depress the economy.
While it is common knowledge that taxes depress the economy, it is untrue.

STRONGEST SUBJECT, MOST ROBUST VERB:
Taxes depress the economy.


Half-Dead Paragraph

People are welcome to walk into the hospital when in need of care; however, not all will be treated equally because of the individual’s disadvantages or advantages. It’s not that doctors are biased towards the patients. It is very seldom that the first priority of the doctors is not the well-being of patients, yet why is there an unequal amount of treatment among people of different groups such as race, income, and social class? By analyzing surveys taken by patients, there is no doubt health disparities are apparent in hospitals and the problem of that roots back to the patient’s privilege. One of the privileges of people with wealth is the ability to communicate more effectively; though communication between doctors and patients is often overlooked by people, it makes a huge influence on the doctor’s decisions and performance. Therefore, people with strong communication skills are usually able to get the most out of the doctor’s abilities.


Sentence-by-Sentence Revision

1) People are welcome to walk into the hospital when in need of care; however, not all will be treated equally because of the individual’s disadvantages or advantages.

The problem: The sentence hints that some disparity of care will be delivered to people in a hospital, but whether the disparity results from disadvantages or perhaps worse care IS the disadvantage is unclear.

The Fix: Revise to clearly identify the patients who receive substandard care.

If hospitals had entrances marked “Rich Patients” and “Poor Patients,” we would all object. But the truth is, once inside the hospital, poor patients receive less care, and suffer worse outcomes, than rich patients.

2) It’s not that doctors are biased towards the patients.

The Problem: The weak “It is not” opening steals focus from the actual subject and verb. The “not construction” hints that doctors are in fact biased.

The Fix: Say clearly that doctors are not biased. Make them the subject of the sentence. Convert bias into a robust verb.

Doctors don’t knowingly discriminate against their poor patients.

3) It is very seldom that the first priority of the doctor’s is not the well-being of patients, yet why is there an unequal amount of treatment among people of different groups such as race, income, and social class?

The Problem: Weak “is” and “is not” constructions. Weak rhetorical question. Weak “unequal amount,” like the “advantages and disadvantages” of the first sentence, fails to identify a problem. After all, “excellent” and “superior” might be “unequal amounts,” but nobody would complain.

The Fix: Eliminate the “is constructions” and substitute a bold clear claim for the RQ.

But the best-intentioned doctors nevertheless shortchange some of their patients on the basis of race, income, and social class.

4) By analyzing surveys taken by patients there is no doubt health disparity is apparent in hospitals and the problem of that roots back to the patient’s privileges.

The Problem: There is no subject for “by analyzing.” Weak “there is” clause. Disparity is not a problem unless someone is not well served.

The Fix: Make the surveys a subject. Eliminate the “there is” clause. Make a straightforward comparison claim to replace the neutral mention of “disparities.”

Patient surveys prove that hospitals lavish care on privileged patients that underprivileged patients do not enjoy.

5) One of the privileges of people with wealth is the ability to communicate more effectively; though communication between doctors and patients is often overlooked by people, it makes a huge influence on the doctor’s decisions and performance.

The Problem: Weak “is” verbs and “it” clause.

The Fix: Make a straightforward claim with a robust verb.

They do so, according to Massachusetts General, because well-to-do patients communicate better on average with their doctors.

6) Therefore, people with strong communication skills are usually able to get the most out of the doctor’s abilities.

The Problem: Shifts focus from the prior sentence’s “ability” to “people.”

The Fix: Nail down the advantage of the ability to communicate.

And that enhanced ability to influence their own care drives better physician performance.

The Revised Paragraph:

If hospitals had entrances marked “Rich Patients” and “Poor Patients,” we would all object. But the truth is, once inside the hospital, poor patients receive less care—and suffer worse outcomes—than rich patients. Doctors don’t knowingly discriminate against their poor patients, but the best-intentioned doctors nevertheless shortchange some of their patients on the basis of race, income, and social class. Patient surveys prove that hospitals lavish care on privileged patients that underprivileged patients do not enjoy. They do so, according to Massachusetts General, because well-to-do patients communicate better on average with their doctors. And that enhanced ability to influence their own care drives better physician performance.

Tonight’s Exercise

Revise the purple paragraph below for vitality and clarity.

Remedial Steps

  • Eliminate repetitious material
  • Eliminate trash language:
    • There is / There are / (etc.)
    • It is / They are / (etc.)
    • because of the fact that / due to the fact that
    • The problem with this situation is . . . .
  • Fix flawed “By verbing . . .” sentences
  • Eliminate needless “types of,” “kinds of,” “sort of” language
  • Repair pronouns that have unclear antecedents

Quality Enhancements

  • Choose the most Robust Subjects and Verbs.
  • Introduce a striking visual image or illustration.
  • Make every sentence a short argument.

The Paragraph:

There is a huge problem in Vancouver with heroin addicts committing crimes to support their habits. The “free heroin for addicts” program is doing everything they can to stop the addicts. The problem is that there is a large crime rate due to the addicts. It is obvious that addicts have a hard time getting through their day to day lives. Daily activities such as jobs, interactions, and relationships are hard to maintain because of the fact that they are using. By heroin users being addicted, they will do whatever they have to do to get their hands on the drug. The types of crimes committed are those of breaking and entering as well as stealing. There are no limits to where they will go to retrieve this drug so that they can feed their addiction. The problem with this program is that it won’t help to ween these addicts off using heroin. It is only trying to save the city from rising crime rates that they’re up to. By providing the drug, these addicts will be off the streets, which in turn will prevent them from committing minor street crimes. This will also keep the heroin users out of the hospital. It is pointless that the hospitals have to deal with people that want to use bad drugs or unsanitary needles and find themselves being unable to afford hospital bills and hard to cope without the drug. This program gives people free heroin in the cleanest way possible. This will in turn fix the city  but not the addiction that these people face.

In-Class Instructions

  • Open a New Post titled “Robust Verbs-Username”
  • Copy and paste the original text paragraph into your post.
  • Edit it using the Remedial Steps and Quality Enhancements above.
  • Then make the most elegant additional edits you can.
  • Publish in two categories: E11 Robust Subjects and Verbs and your Username.

Then open any of your own posts that require editing and spend the rest of the period making similar improvements to your own work.

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