Writing in English. Subjects and characters

    The content of these guidelines is taken from the Vives University Network’s Interuniversity Style Guide for Writing Institutional Texts, an interuniversity project in which the UPC participated with the support of the Secretariat for Universities and Research of the Government of Catalonia.


    Subjects and characters

    • At its most basic level, a sentence is about people or things (characters) that do certain actions or have certain actions done to them.

    • As such, the subject of a sentence should refer clearly to the character and the verb of the sentence should describe the important action.

    • If possible, characters should be short and concrete.

    • Often, however, you are obliged to use abstractions (unemployment, legislation, etc.) as characters of your texts. This is not a problem as long as your readers are familiar with the abstractions that are central to your text. Readers have difficulty in following a text when its subjects are unfamiliar abstractions that are not characters.

      For example, in a text entitled First-year students and the registration process, the following sentence uses an abstraction in subject position that is not a character.

      Complaints by first-year students about the clarity of information on the website were frequent.

      In this sentence, the subject is long (13 words), abstract and not a main character (the focus of the text is not the word complaints).

      The following sentence is an improvement.

      First-year students frequently complained about the clarity of information on the website.

    • To sum up, then, readers will find your texts easier to follow if the subjects of your verbs are short and concrete (or familiar abstractions), and refer to the main characters.