Last week (http://www.normfriedman.com/blog/wicked-which/), I tried to make the which vs. that dilemma less scary, and I promised you a few postscripts. All three relate to using that.
Bonus tip #1
Whenever we edit our work and come across that, we should see if that is serving any purpose. For example:
I never knew that Kate and Keith were twins.
Having pored over last year’s budget, I am certain that we can add a part-time HR person.
Does that clarify anything or make either sentence easier to comprehend? No. In fact, I feel sure no other word can be deleted from our rough drafts as often as that.
Bonus tip #2
Often, we can write even more economically by cutting that is, that were, that have been, or that and some other form of the verb to be:
I collected all the pastries that were left after the meeting and delivered them to the day care center. Edited: I collected all the pastries left after the meeting and delivered them to the day care center.
The panel reviewed all the scripts that had been crafted during the semester and chose two for production. Edited: The panel reviewed all the scripts crafted during the semester and chose two for production.
Bonus tip #3
When that is needed, but it refers to a person, we refine our writing by using who instead.
She is the doctor that treated my uncle. Edited: She is the doctor who treated my uncle.
Max is the graduate student that assisted the dean. Edited: Max is the graduate student who assisted the dean.
Incidentally, failing to change that to who in these instances is not wrong in the same sense that using an incorrect pronoun or verb tense is wrong. It is simply a missed opportunity to use the better word.
In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml.