The next time you think your essay, article, or letter is finished, use the Search function to look for “there.” I’ve come to suspect that, for some writers, typing There is or There are to start a sentence or clause must be an unconscious habit. I think people do not realize how often they do it–or how cluttered, unfocused, overly wordy, and weak it makes their sentences. Break the habit of beginning sentences with there is or there are. Notice how, in the examples that follow, “there is” or “there are” makes the sentences less smooth and causes the reader to stumble a little.
Rewriting is often a straightforward matter, as in these examples:
- weak, overly wordy: There is research that shows that obesity has a genetic component.
- concise: Research shows that obesity has a genetic component.
- weak: There are many things that can go wrong when instructions are not followed.
- concise: Many things can go wrong when instructions are not followed.
- weak: There was an incident last year of a student caught cheating.
- direct: Last year, a student was caught cheating.
- overly wordy: There is a lot that needs to be done to renovate the house.
- better: A lot needs to be done to renovate the house.
- better: Much needs to be done to renovate the house.
- best: The house needs many repairs.
In other cases, the fix is not quite so straightforward and might require completely rethinking and rewriting, finding specific verbs to replace the deadly “is,” “are,” “have,” or “has”:
- weak: We interviewed the employees, and there were few complaints.
- direct: We interviewed the employees and heard few complaints.
- especially overly wordy: There have been several issues concerning the problem of how to get more business.
- direct: Getting more business is a problem. We have identified the following issues: (list would follow).
- overly wordy: If there is one thing the principal can’t stand, it is students who are late for school. (this sentence has an additional problem: it could be interpreted to mean the principal has a personal dislike of students who are late.)
- concise: The principal really does not tolerate tardiness.
- weak: There are few reasons to begin a sentence with “there are.”
- concise: Beginning a sentence with “there are” clutters and weakens it.