If you are like most people in my business writing classes, you want to write more concisely. It's a terrific goal. Concise writing is much more likely to be read and acted on than wordy messages. But in your efforts to trim extra words, be sure to keep the conjunction that when your readers need it.
Your readers need that whenever leaving it out might cause confusion. For example, this sentence may confuse readers:
- The team has identified the workflow needs several more screens.
When I began reading the sentence, I understood "The team has identified the workflow needs." Then I read on and realized that the team had identified something different. The beginning of the sentence had misled me.
This revised sentence, which includes the word that, avoids possible confusion:
- The team has identified that the workflow needs several more screens.
Here are more examples that may confuse readers:
- Mr. Davidson appreciates Dan and Steve from Sales will also be at the trade show.
- She noticed more films this year did not have a big-name star.
- He announced the new budget increases our investment in schools by 20 percent.
Scanning those examples, readers may first think:
- Mr. Davidson appreciates Dan and Steve from Sales.
- She noticed more films this year.
- He announced the new budget increases.
But continuing in each sentence, the reader thinks–huh?–and has to start again.
Any confusion disappears with the conjunction that inserted:
- Mr. Davidson appreciates that Dan and Steve from Sales will also be at the trade show.
- She noticed that more films this year did not have a big-name star.
- He announced that the new budget increases our investment in schools by 20 percent.
When you wonder whether you can remove that from a sentence, read it without that and notice whether anything runs together that might mislead the reader. Would these sentences be clear without that?
- He told me that he would arrive around midnight.
- The jury believed that two of the witnesses to the accident were not telling the truth.
- I understood that the sales projections given at the meeting were inflated.
- Please ensure that every client gets a copy of the presentation booklet.
I believe we can eliminate that from two of the sentences above, but we must keep it in the other two. How about you?
In my view, the sentences that work without the conjunction that are 1 and 4. We can leave that out with no risk of confusion. (Note: In Number 4, I would still keep that because I think the sentence sounds better with it.)
In Number 2, the clause "The jury believed two of the witnesses" would mislead readers.
In Number 3, "I understood the sales projections" takes readers in the wrong direction.
The newly published Microsoft Manual of Style recommends keeping that whenever it is optional, because the word helps international readers understand complex sentences. The manual states, "Optional words often eliminate ambiguity by clarifying sentence structure." While I do not always keep that in my sentences, I agree with the principle.
What do you think about that?