Keeping your reader's attention is the holy grail of customer engagement. We are all dogs distracted by squirrels when the internet is nearby. So here's a simple writer's trick for keeping your content sharp and your reader more focused: Avoid “there is/there are” constructions whenever possible.
What's wrong with using “there”? Nothing, per se, but it is weak—kind of like eating school lunch: it’s bland, it’s mushy, and it’s usually not good for you. (But see below for the counterargument.)
“There” constructions feel natural and conversational, but that doesn't mean they pull their weight. Instead, “there” sentences are generally the writing equivalent of saying “umm”—they provide an extra millisecond to think about what you want to say next. This is totally fine when you are drafting your text. But as you polish up your work, go through and look for “there” constructions because in the end they often add bulk and can actually obscure meaning.
Here are several examples of “there” constructions in business writing (shown in orange) and their revisions (shown in blue) to demonstrate how removing “there” can improve your writing. Note the clarity and punch of the rewrites compared with the original versions.
- There remains an oversupplied housing market.
- The housing market remains oversupplied.
- If there is insufficient demand for units, …
- If demand for units is insufficient, …
- If there is more than one meeting per day, …
- If the board holds more than one meeting per day, …
- There would be a cash sweep under the loan if…
- Under the loan, a cash sweep would occur if…
Sometimes “there is/are” feels like the least awkward way to say something. Is “there is/there are” ever okay?
Yes, of course! There are good reasons to use “there.” (Sorry, I couldn't resist!)
Not every sentence can or should be robust. Some ideas are naturally passive, in which case, “there is/there are” is absolutely the clearest way to state an idea. If your only other verb choices are “exist” or “occur,” you might prefer to use “there” over these fairly ineffectual verbs. I know I do.
To demonstrate the case for “there is/there are,” take a look at the following sentences. See if you think the rewrites aid understanding and readability.
- There are conflicts of interest between the landowners and the developers.
- Conflicts of interest exist between the landowners and the developers.
- The landowners and the developers have conflicts of interest.
Personally, I don't think the rewrites dramatically improve upon the original. Who knew conflicts of interest could be so docile?
When considering whether to keep “there” or switch it out, you also have to factor in what else is going on in the paragraph. For example, “there” constructions can be useful to create a contrast and help place emphasis.
For example, let's take an earlier example of “There would be a cash sweep under the loan if....” Is the focus of the paragraph the unusual nature of a cash sweep in this financing structure (where “would” becomes the term of emphasis in the phrase)? Then this original “there” construction is probably the most appropriate choice. On the other hand, the “Under the loan, a cash sweep would occur if” version probably is better suited if cash sweeps are not expected and you want to focus on the details of this surprising development.
So I'm not recommending you banish “there” constructions entirely. My goal is only to help writers recognize the nature of “there” constructions and how they affect emphasis and meaning. Knowing how to wield “there is/there are” helps you consider phrasing that may serve the reader better.
As your awareness grows, you'll find that surgical use of “there” constructions not only sharpens your prose but also deepens and clarifies your own understanding. And greater clarity always leads to better, more impactful content and higher reader engagement, no matter what you're writing about.