Public Works and Government Services Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Institutional Links

 
Search TERMIUM Plus®

Less is More: Eliminating on a… basis

Heather Matsune
(Language Update, Volume 5, Number 4, 2008, page 23)

English is full of words that let us express our ideas, experiences and emotions, and this is a great luxury. However, it’s important to keep word play, wordiness and witticisms to a minimum when communicating with a broad readership. Writing simply and directly helps ensure that readers at any literacy level can quickly and easily understand what you’re telling them.

Fewer words

Sometimes all you have to do to make a sentence more simple and direct is delete words. For instance, when you have on an [adjective] basis phrases, you can often reduce the entire phrase to a single adverb or adjective.

Problem phrase Wordy sentence Concise sentence
on a daily (hourly, nightly, weekly, monthly, yearly, etc.) basis Back up your files on a daily basis. (8 words) Back up your files daily. (5 words)
OR
Back up your files every day. (6 words)
on an ongoing basis Inspectors monitor compliance with safety regulations on an ongoing basis. (10 words) Inspectors continually monitor compliance with safety regulations. (7 words)
on a regular basis Exercising on a regular basis reduces stress. (7 words) Regular exercise reduces stress. (4 words)

Here are some other phrases that you can reduce to one adverb or adjective:

Problem phrase Wordy sentence Concise sentence
from time to time (on a few occasions, once in a while, on certain occasions, etc.) Meeting rooms get double-booked from time to time. (9 words) Meeting rooms get double-booked occasionally. (6 words)
over and done with The holidays are over and done with, and I hope you are all well rested. (15 words) The holidays are over, and I hope you are all well rested. (12 words)
time after time (time and again, over and over, it is often the case that, etc.) Time after time, volunteers pitch in to preserve community green spaces. (11 words) Volunteers frequently pitch in to preserve community green spaces. (9 words)
fully and completely (completely and utterly, wholly and completely, etc.) Please fill out the forms
fully and completely. (8 words)
Please fill out the forms completely. (6 words)
worthy of note (worthy of consideration, etc.) The candidate’s attitude and work ethic are worthy of note. (10 words) The candidate’s attitude and work ethic are noteworthy. (8 words)

Clearer words

Another way to improve sentences containing on an [adjective] basis phrases is to substitute concrete details for an abstract or complex adjective. You may end up with more words in your sentence, but being specific will prevent confusion.

Problem phrase Wordy sentence Concise sentence
on a quarterly basis The committee meets on a quarterly basis. The committee meets every three months.
OR
The committee meets in February, May, August and November.
on a timely basis Send us your feedback about the workshop on a timely basis. Send us your feedback about the workshop by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, January 7, 2009.
on a voluntary basis Producers indicate, on a voluntary basis, whether a product is derived from biotechnology. Producers may indicate whether a product is derived from biotechnology.
OR
Producers do not have to indicate whether a product is derived from biotechnology.

Watch for on a… basis in your writing. You might be surprised by how often wordy and abstract phrases turn up. Fortunately, they’re usually easy to simplify and clarify. If you make the effort, writing concisely and clearly will become habit.