Syntax: The Arrangement of Words

To write an effective document, you should follow some basic rules for sentence construction. Use of the proper syntax will result in more clear communications.

Grammar Usage
If you do not use accepted grammar, readers may misunderstand the message of your document. Even if the errors do not confuse the reader, they may reduce your credibility as an author.

Subjects and verbs must agree in number. For example, “the audits are complete” and “the audit is complete”. Writing “ensure one of the machines are in service”, instead of the correct “ensure one of the machines is in service”, may result in the wrong operator action.

Another error is the intentional omission of articles (a, an, the). A noun can be meant in a general or specific sense. Leaving out an article may change the meaning of the sentence. For example, “the meeting is attended by the supervisors of the process area” indicates all the supervisors attend the meeting. However, “the meeting is attended by supervisors of the process area” may indicate some supervisors attend the meeting.

Concise Writing
Decide what you want to say, and say it in as few words as possible. Remove every word, phrase, or sentence that can be discarded without sacrificing clarity or violating any grammar rules.

Active Sentences
Imperative (active) sentences use an action verb. For example, “open the valve” is an active statement. A passive sentence would be “the valve is opened”.

Positive Statements
Write instructions as positive statements. For example, “ensure the switch is closed”. Avoid negative statements, such as, “ensure the switch is not open”.

Short Sentences
Break long sentences into several short sentences that contain fewer actions.

Punctuation Usage
Use punctuation to aid in understanding, such as, commas to separate items in a list. Use a colon to indicate a list is to follow. Use semicolons to separate items in a list that contains internal commas. Use apostrophes to indicate possession, not to make a word plural.