Here is an important clear writing pitfall to avoid: long and complex sentences. They are simply harder for the reader to understand. No one likes to read a sentence that’s unwieldy. Resist the temptation to put everything in one sentence. A good rule of thumb is to express only one idea in a sentence. This will reduce many sources of ambiguity.
Writing a company report that describes the company’s product and its pricing does not have to result in a reader’s nightmare. Information packed sentences leave most readers scratching their heads; they will get lost in the trees without seeing the forest. The key is to strive for better organization. Use shorter sentences in conjunction with shorter paragraphs.
The following one-sentence paragraph contains many shortcomings:
The ABC Natural Medicine Group founded by Dr. Chang Zhou, a medical doctor with many years of experience in the natural medicine field, who was introduced to the formula used in this product while on sabbatical in a small town south of Shanghai and was motivated to pursue the benefits of the mind- body unity of natural healing instead of following the path of conventional medicine after seeing his father, once robust but who became sluggish, apathetic, and listless, which he attributed to the damaging effects of a typical western diet, will be introducing its premier high potency, super energy health supplements later this year, composed of the highest quality, health- enhancing phyto-nutrients which allow for instant nutrient absorption, as well as other medicinal components including dried seahorses, ginseng, turtle plastron, aloe vera, and other plant and animal parts.
The difficulty with this paragraph is that it provides a lot of information without allowing the reader to take a breath or see any context. The use of short sentences broken up from the one long single sentence, together with some logical reorganizing of the sentence and the paragraph, provides context and makes this paragraph much easier to read as shown by the rewrite.
The ABC Natural Medicine Group will introduce its premier, high potency super energy health supplements later this year. They are composed of the highest quality, health-enhancing phyto-nutrients, which allow for instant nutrient absorption.
The Group was founded by Dr. Chang Zhou, a medical doctor with many years of experience in the natural medicine field. He was introduced to the formula used in this product while on sabbatical in a small town south of Shanghai.
Instead of following the path of conventional medicine, Dr. Zhou was motivated to pursue the benefits of the mind-body unity of natural healing after seeing his father, once robust, become sluggish, apathetic, and listless. He attributed this condition to the damaging effects of a typical western diet.
As is evident, breaking up the one long sentence into six shorter ones and three paragraphs has made the general, rambling paragraph into three concise, specific ones. The information only has to be read once to understand it. Also, the components of the medicine, dried seahorses, etc., have been deleted from the paragraph to facilitate the flow of information; these items are best left for a separate paragraph or even an appendix or supplement.
Often you can shorten your sentences to make them easier to understand by replacing a negative phrase with one word that conveys the same thought. Thus,
Negative Phrase Replacement Word
not able unable
not certain uncertain
not often infrequent
not many few
not the same different
not acceptable unacceptable
does not include excludes, omits
does not have lacks
An unduly long sentence has no place in clear writing. Follow the techniques summarized above to help avoid “choking” your writing with lengthy, information packed sentences. Work on developing shorter, pithy sentences; the construction of great sentences requires no less.
Copyright 2012. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.