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Beginning sentences and even clauses with “it”, “this”, "that" and “there” fogs up your message. The reader has to wait until later on in the sentence to figure out the true subject of the action. And “it”, “this”, "that" and “there” often need a form of the verb “to be” to become something. So your sentences will be longer, less clear, and you will find action verbs turned into dull nouns.

We asked our students to use the computer search function to find every sentence or clause that starts with “it”, “this”, “that”, or “there”.

They pinpointed the sentence’s true subject and evaluated whether they could use a more active and precise verb.

Here’s a sample of sentences they revised:

Sentence Revised
“There was a riot outside the courthouse after the jury delivered the guilty verdict.” A riot erupted outside the courthouse after the jury delivered the guilty verdict.
“It was important to the policy makers that the public discussion on the disability tax credit included all stakeholder points of view.” Policy makers welcomed stakeholder input and public debate on proposed changes to the disability tax credit.
“There was an attempt to implement a plan that would create a compromise between members of the Board of Directors that favoured reduction of clinic hours over reduction of staff.” The Board of Directors rejected a compromise plan to scale down the clinic’s hours rather than reduce staff.
“This was the result of a settlement negotiation that included a staggered payment schedule.” The settlement terms staggered the defendant’s payments thereby, preserving his business.

And as an added bonus, several students discovered that “it” often introduces throat-clearing phrases they could easily edit out.

Sentence Revised
It is obvious that the settlement proposal addresses the key points.” The settlement proposal addresses the key points.
“It should be noted that the court set out a three-stage test.” The court set out a three-stage test.