Polluted? Convoluted!

By | June 17, 2007
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Sometimes when we’re writing, we become so engrossed with statistical accuracy that we fail to take into consideration how a reader would interpret a poorly constructed sentence.

For example, in a recent FORTUNE article on India’s pollution problem (“River of Sorrow“, June 11 issue), the author wrote:

“The problem is that 11 of the city’s 17 sewage-treatment plants are underutilized; a quarter of them run at less than 30% capacity. That’s because the city’s sewer system is so corroded and clogged it can’t deliver to the treatment plants the waste of the 55% of New Delhi’s 15 million inhabitants who are connected to the sewage system.


If you’re like me, you’ll be stumped by the convoluted prose above that tried to string together several thought processes in one hard-to-decipher sentence.

Here’s a suggested rewrite:

Even though 15 million inhabitants in New Delhi are connected to the sewage system [sic], 55% of them can’t get their waste delivered to the treatment plants. That’s because the city’s sewer system [sic] is too corroded and clogged.

Isn’t that clearer now? [Btw, in both instances, it should be “sewerage”.]

I shall leave you with this quote to ponder over:

“In Walden, Henry David Thoreau exhorted his readers to ‘Simplify, simplify, simplify.’ And while it’s a little scary to take a blue pencil to Hank’s copy, here is my rewrite: ‘Simplify’.” – Luke Sullivan

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