Clear Technical Writing
Engaging Action

Helping Verbs 2

Sentences with full thoughts can engage your reader.

If we designed a better antenna, the radio could operate inside commercial buildings.

Sentences with unfinished thoughts are not as useful.

The radio could operate inside commercial buildings.

The problem is the helping verb could. It leaves the reader wondering, "Under what conditions is this true?" A wondering reader is not an engaged reader.

Replace could with can and the sentence naturally becomes a full thought.

The radio can operate inside commercial buildings.

And if this full thought is always true, the sentence can often be improved by dropping the word can.

The radio operates inside commercial buildings.

We were taught that our writing should be correct and clear but not blunt. Being polite or being formal leads to the use of hedging words. An example is the British use of the phrase, "I should think that ..."

When the hedge or condition is part of our full thought, we leave the word could alone.

If we did X, the radio could Y.

But when there really is no X, we should not confuse the reader by using the word could, which hints that there is an X.

The same can be said for the helping verb would.

If we improve the antenna, the radio would sell well to security departments.

If there is no condition provided, we should instead use the word will.

The radio will sell well to security departments.

We are left with an assertive statement. And if we work in a sales department, we typically rewrite claims as facts.

The radio sells well to security departments.

Edit your writing by underlining helping verbs that can leave the reader wondering.

If he would include more comments, we could fix the code more easily. I know he could write standardized code. I've seen him do it. He should put comments where they are required. We would understand his logic.

If he would include more comments, we could fix the code more easily. I know he can write standardized code. I've seen him do it. If he puts comments where they are required, we will understand his logic.

Lesson: Helping Verbs 2
Module: Engaging Action
Course: Clear Technical Writing