One of my loyal readers sent me a question about the use of the word “that”; she said, “I am used to seeing the word ‘that ’ in all instances shown below” and provided four examples. Here’s one:
COPAS guidelines require that the initial billing of joint account charges occurs within a 24-month period.
Her boss had removed the word “that” from all the examples, saying:
“. . . please be aware the word “that” seldom adds value and can be a major distraction. I have made adjustments both in the attached file and in life. My college English professor told me if I didn’t stop using it, I would get an F. I quit using it and I got a C.”
I told her that I could not support her boss’s deletion. I cited a comprehensive article in Technical Communication, the journal of the Society for Technical Communication.
Based on John Kohl’s argument, here’s what happens to the sentence without the word “that”: the sentence structure places “the initial billing of joint account charges” in the direct object position, but the phrase is actually the subject of an embedded relative clause: “that the initial billing of joint account charges occurs within a 24-month period.”
I see this error all the time in my students’ papers (each of the following sentences would be easier and faster to process if the word “that” introduced the relative clause):
- Part 11 requires audit trails be secure.
- Demonstrate the Offset Differential at machine 2 is not value-added.
- We will ensure clinical practice guidelines are easily accessible to all Providers online.
“But,” my students argue, “you’re adding a word to my sentence!” Of course I am, and of course, I can usually remove another five words from their sentence with careful tightening.
I always recommend using the word “that” after these verbs:
• believe that
• confirm that
• ensure that
• found that
• indicate that
• learned that
• make sure that
• reveals that
• shows that
• stated that
• understand that
As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and pushback at email@example.com.
John R. Kohl, Improving Translatability and Readability with Syntactic Cues, Technical Communication, Vol. 46, No. 2, May 1999, pp. 149-166.