Style Problems in Technical Writing

This training module covers the most common style problems in technical writing. Each section defines the style problems, with examples, and instructions on how to fix the problems. At the end of each section there will be a few practice questions covering what you just learned.

At the very end of the entire module you will take a short quiz over everything you learned. You will be able to go back for more practice on the sections you need more help on. 

No Actor in Subject

No Actor in Subject

What Does No Actor in Subject mean? 

When there is no actor in the subject the sentence is set up in an object-verb-subject format. This means the object of the sentence comes before the subject and that confuses the reader. In writing for technical communication sentences should be set up in the format subject-verb-object for the information to be more clear for the reader.  An example of a sentence that is set up in the object-verb-subject format is: the ball was thrown by Ruby. The ball is the object, was thrown is the verb,  and the subject is Ruby . To fix this sentence we need to put the sentence in subject-verb-object format and place the actor, Ruby, in the subject position. The new sentence would then read: Ruby threw the ball. 

How to Find No Actor in Subject?

Any time a sentence begins with "there" or "it" you will have no actor in subject. "There" and "it" cannot perform an action therefore they cannot be in the subject position. You also have no actor in subject when the actor is at the end of the sentence.  This means the sentence is in object-verb-subject format. Sentences in this format are incorrect for writing in technical communication.

How Do I Fix No Actor in Subject? 

Step 1: Locate any sentence that begins with "there" or "it", or has the actor at the end of the sentence. 

Step 2: If the sentence begins with there or it, add an actor. If the sentence has the actor at the end, move the actor to the beginning of the sentence.

Step 3: Rewrite the sentence, so the sentence is in the format subject-verb-object. 

Sentences With No Actor in Subject and How to Rewrite Them

Example Using "There" 

Object-verb-subject

  • There is a rock in her shoe. 

Subject-verb-object

  • Ruby has a rock in her shoe. 

Example Using "It" 

Object-verb-subject 

  • It was very hot outside. 

Subject-verb-object 

  • Ruby thought the day was very hot. 

Example With Subject at End of Sentence

Object-verb-subject 

  • The ball was thrown by Ruby

Subject-verb-object 

  • Ruby threw the ball. 

The sentences below are in subject-verb-object format.

  • Ruby threw the ball.
  • The ball was thrown by Ruby.
  • The ball was thrown.
  • The ball, by Ruby, was thrown.

The specifications below mean you have no actor in subject.

  • The sentence begins with "there" or "it" or has the actor at the end of the sentence.

In what format is a sentence with the actor in the subject?

  • verb-object-subject
  • object-verb-subject
  • verb-subject-object
  • subject-verb-object

How do you fix no actor in subject?

  • rewrite sentence, locate no actor in subject, move/add actor to beginning of sentence.
  • locate no actor in subject, move/add actor to beginning of sentence, rewrite sentence.
  • move/add actor to beginning of sentence, locate no actor in subject, rewrite sentence.

When there is no actor in the subject the sentence is set up in an object-verb-subject format.

  • When there is no actor in the subject the sentence is set up in an object-verb-subject format

Passive Voice

Passive Voice and How to Fix

What is Passive Voice? 

Passive voice occurs when a "to be" verb is placed behind a past-tense verb. Any time you have passive voice you will also have no actor in subject. 

The "to be" verbs are as follows:

  • Is 
  • Am 
  • Are
  • Was
  • Were
  • Be
  • Being 
  • Been

How do I find the "to be" verbs? 

If you are working on a computer or Microsoft Word: 

  • Step 1: Press down the keys "Ctrl+F"
  • Step 2: Type in one "to be" verb at a time so the computer can locate it. 
  • Step 3: If a past tense verb follows the "to be" verb you have passive voice.

If you are editing on a sheet of paper I recommend going down the sheet of paper 2 or 3 times and highlighting all the "to be" and then checking if they are followed by a past tense verb.  

How do I Fix Passive Voice? 

Once you have located all the "to be" verbs that are followed by a past tense verb reword the sentence.

How do you find a "to be" verb when you are working on a computer?

  • Press down "Ctrl+Alt+Shift"
  • Press down "F2+Shift"
  • Press down "Ctrl+F"
  • Press down Ctrl+P"

What are the "to be" verbs?

  • Is, am, are, were, was, be, being, been
  • Is, am, are, was, been, there, went, will
  • who, what, when, where, why, how, will
  • will, be, there, who, when, what, are, was

You will always have no actor in subject if you have passive voice.

  • You will always have no actor in subject if you have passive voice.

Stacked Nouns

What are Stacked Nouns?

What are Stacked Nouns

Stacked nouns happen when there are three or more nouns in a row. They can be hard to read and can make the sentence have more than a single meaning. Stacked nouns leave the sentence open for interpretation. 

Examples of Stacked Nouns

Examples of Stacked Nouns 

  • You have failed the password security question answer attempts limit
  • Here are the data bound control table row action links
  • The reduced minimum OS partition space available requirement



How to Fix Stacked Nouns

  • Step 1: Find nouns that are at least three in a row. 
  • Step 2: Hyphenate words that can be hyphenated. When they are hyphenated  they will count as one word. 
  • Step 3: Break up the stacked nouns by adding prepositions and conjunctions. 
  • Step 4: Rewrite the sentence. 

Heading 1 text goes here

Try rewording the sentences: 

  • You have reached the limit to answer the security questions.
  • Here are the row-action links for the data-bound control-table 
  • Reduction in the requirement for the minimum space that is available on an OS partition

The following are stacked nouns:

  • Bring the metal detection device gadget home with you.
  • You have failed the password security question answer attempts limit
  • I would like to go eat at a nice restaurant.
  • The Fourth of July had so many fireworks.

What can you add in between stacked nouns to fix a sentence?

  • Prepositions
  • Verbs
  • Conjunctions
  • Adjective

What makes a stacked noun?

  • Three or more verbs in a row.
  • Three or more nouns in a row.
  • Three or more adjectives in a row.
  • Two nouns in a row.

Negative, Fancy, and Nonspecific Language

Negative, Fancy, and Nonspecific Language

Negative Language

Negative language happens when "negative words" are used in a sentence. This includes words like not, no, and even but. Negative language makes the reader get a negative feel from the sentence even if the sentence is meant to be positive.

Fancy Language

Fancy language happens when the writer uses words the average reader does not understand. This makes the writing hard to understand because the reader is taking a lot more time trying to figure out the meaning of what they just read.

Nonspecific Language

Nonspecific Language happens when the writer is not specific with dates, numbers, or quantities. Always try to be as specific as possible so nothing can be left up for debate. 

Examples of Negative, Fancy, and Nonspecific Language

Negative Language

  • These reports are of little value and are causing problems in the office.
  • Don’t use an A-12 form when reporting absences.
  • The project cannot be completed because some people are not doing their jobs.

Try rewording without the negative words. 

  • Thank you for discussing the letters. As we agreed, the letters will now have…
  • Use form A-24 when you report absences.
  • We must get everyone’s data by Thursday to complete the project on time.

Fancy Language 

  • Ruby perused all of the books I had on my bookshelf.
  • He was detained on charges of blasphemy.
  • She has and aquiline nose like her mother. 

Try rewording without the fancy words: 

  • Ruby carefully read all of my books. 
  • He was detained because disrespected her religious beliefs. 
  • Sha has a hooked nose like her mother. 

Nonspecific Language

  • I will have this document ready by tomorrow for you to review. 
  • She told me to add some salt to the soup before I leave to the store. 
  • She has a some brothers and sisters that live in Colorado. 

Try rewording by using specific language: 

  • I will have this document ready by tomorrow at 2pm for you to review. 
  • She told me to add two tablespoons of salt to the soup before I leave to the store. 
  • She had two brothers and two sisters that live in Colorado. 

How to Fix Negative, Fancy, and Nonspecific Language 

  • Step 1: Find any of the above criteria in a sentence. 
  • Step 2: Fix the problem by taking out the negative, fancy, or nonspecific language and replacing them with the above solutions. 
  • Step 3: Rewrite the sentence. 

Which sentence show negative language?

  • She was upset.
  • She did not want to go to work.
  • Her boss made her feel bad.
  • She misses her dog.

Which sentence shows fancy language?

  • Her mom made breakfast for dinner.
  • She has and aquiline nose like her mother.
  • She likes to eat tacos with her friends.
  • Her flight was delayed three hours.

Which sentence shows nonspecific language?

  • I will have this document ready by tomorrow for you to review.
  • She gave me two pieces of candy.
  • She has a some brothers and sisters that live in Colorado.
  • I will call you back tomorrow at 5pm.

End of Section Quiz

Conclusion and End of Section Quiz

Review What You Learned

Now that you have completed the course we will review what you just learned with the end of section quiz. You can always go back and study a section you have trouble with and then come back to the questions on the end of section quiz. 

How do you fix no actor in subject?

  • rewrite sentence, locate no actor in subject, move/add actor to beginning of sentence.
  • locate no actor in subject, move/add actor to beginning of sentence, rewrite sentence.
  • move/add actor to beginning of sentence, locate no actor in subject, rewrite sentence.

What makes a stacked noun?

  • Three or more verbs in a row.
  • Three or more nouns in a row.
  • Three or more adjectives in a row.
  • Two nouns in a row.

What can you add in between stacked nouns to fix a sentence?

  • Prepositions
  • Verbs
  • Conjunctions
  • Adjectives

How do you find a "to be" verb when you are working on a computer?

  • Press down "Ctrl+Alt+Shift"
  • Press down "F2+Shift"
  • Press down "Ctrl+F"
  • Press down Ctrl+P"

What are the "to be" verbs?

  • Is, am, are, were, was, be, being, been
  • Is, am, are, was, been, there, went, will
  • who, what, when, where, why, how, will
  • will, be, there, who, when, what, are, was

In what format is a sentence with the actor in the subject?

  • verb-object-subject
  • object-verb-subject
  • verb-subject-object
  • subject-verb-object

Which sentence show negative language?

  • She was upset.
  • She did not want to go to work.
  • Her boss made her feel bad.
  • She misses her dog.

Which sentence shows fancy language?

  • Her mom made breakfast for dinner.
  • She has and aquiline nose like her mother.
  • She likes to eat tacos with her friends.
  • Her flight was delayed three hours.