Use Shorter Sentences For Clear Writing

The longer and more complex a sentence is, the harder it will be for the reader to understand it or any portion of it.  No one likes to read a sentence that’s unwieldy.  Resist the temptation to include 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: 

          Before:

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 conducting research 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, and 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. 

          After:

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 conducting research 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.

You can also shorten your sentences to make them easier to understand by replacing a negative phrase with one word that conveys the same thought. For example, “not the same” can be replaced with “different,” “does not have” can be replaced with “lacks,” and “does not include” can be replaced with “excludes.”

Avoid using longer words when shorter ones will suffice.  Instead of getting mired in a grammarian’s technical jargon as to whether a sentence contains a buried or hidden verb, you can train yourself to recognize certain words or phrases and try to eliminate or rewrite them as the context permits.  Thus, words ending in “tion” and “ment” can often be used in a different form without concern as to what grammatical label applies.  Instead of writing “You are required to make an application for a fishing license,” write “You are required to apply for a fishing ,license.”  In the same vein write “The cutback is not to be made unless authorized,” rather than “You must seek authorization for the cutback before making it.”

Copyright © 2013.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

 

     

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Filed under active voice, clear writing, good diction, punctuation, sound sentence structure, tips for good diction, Writing Improvement

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