Clear Sentences Require Sound Structure.
As pointed out in the last post, short, simple sentences and short, common words, enhance the effectiveness of a paragraph. Your writing will be streamlined even further and your writing will be even clearer if you follow the natural word sequence of English speakers, “subject-verb-object,” as closely as possible. Keep subjects and objects close to their verbs. Putting modifiers, clauses, or phrases between any of these essential parts of a sentence will make it harder for the reader to understand you and weakens your sentence structure.
Holders of common stock will be entitled to receive, to the extent money is available, a cash payment, as set forth in the accompanying schedules.
Cash distributions will be made to holders of common stock on the payment dates indicated in the accompanying schedules, if cash is available.
However, sloppy word placement even in a short sentence can cause ambiguity. The following sentence makes it appear as if the writer has decided to be disabled:
Ambiguous – If you are determined to have a disability, the company will pay you according to the schedule set forth below.
Clearer – If the company determines that you have a disability, it will pay you according to the schedule set forth below.
Strive For Consistent Sentence Construction.
Uneven sentence construction will lead to unclear writing. A common form of mixed sentence construction is the use of two negatives in a sentence. Use of the so-called double negative destroys the orderly structure of the sentence and marks you as an uninformed writer.
For example, a company manual might provide as follows on the subject of extra vacation pay: No approval of extra vacation pay may be implied in the absence of express approval from the company.
It is clearer to say: You must obtain express company approval for extra vacation pay.
Wrong: I haven’t got nothing to say about it.
Right: I don’t have anything to say about it.
Wrong: He can’t write no better now than he could then.
Right: He can’t write any better now than he could then.
Wrong: He couldn’t hardly run a step.
Right: He could hardly run a step.
Wrong: Your invitation cannot at no time be accepted.
Right: Your invitation cannot be accepted at any time.
Follow Parallel Sentence Structure For Parallel Thoughts.
A reader is attentive to both the form of the sentence as well as the thought. The idea behind parallel sentence structure, or parallelism, is that the sentence should contain likeness of form. That is, you should use parts of speech that are consistent in form. Parallelism thus assures the smooth rhythm of a sentence by use of a consistent grammatical form. Unparallel sentences can slip into your writing easily. Read the finished writing through at least once to look solely for these mistakes; reading it aloud can also help to spot them. Here are some examples of unparallel structure with corrections:
Not parallel: Walking can sometimes be better exercise than to jog.
Parallel: Walking can sometimes be better exercise than jogging.
Not parallel: Your competitor sells lawnmowers of better quality and having a lower selling price.
Parallel: Your competitor sells lawnmowers of better quality and at a lower price.
Not parallel: If you want to buy ABC vitamins, simply fill out the coupon below, making your check payable to the X Company, and mailing it to the address shown.
Parallel: If you want to buy ABC vitamins, simply fill out the coupon below, make your check payable to the ABC Company, and mail it to the address shown.
Copyright © 2012. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.