Tag Archives: paragraphs

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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Clear Writing Requires Well Constructed Paragraphs

It’s my first anniversary for publishing this blog!  The first post was made January 22, 2012.  So, in honor of that event, my topic to illustrate the benefits of good paragraphing is one of my favorite subjects – baseball.

Paragraphs allow the reader to take a breath while continuing to read.  Without them, a reader  would face the daunting task of having to read and decide simultaneously when there is a change of thought or subject.                                

Clear writing flows directly from well composed paragraphing.  The effectiveness of any writing will depend directly on how well you have constructed the paragraphs.  All paragraphs should be unified in thought, well organized, and coherent.

Paragraphs may be long or short.  Moderation and common sense are keys to good paragraphing.  If a paragraph is too short, the reader may conclude the writer has given little thought to the writing.  If it’s too long, the reader may simply get discouraged.

                 

Paragraphs May Be Used For Different Purposes

          There are distinct types of writing available for specific purposes, including persuasive, expository, narrative, creative, descriptive, research, and (book) reporting.  Paragraphing does not of necessity completely follow the type of writing you are using, but may vary within the main body of the document being written, depending on the context.

Two main groups of paragraphs exist, narrative and descriptive.  Other forms of paragraphing may have different identifying labels placed on them, such as chronologic, compare and contrast, definition, and others, but it is simpler to place them in one of the two main categories.

For example, a chronologic or progressive paragraph is so-called because of its orderly progression from one point to another, often following a time sequence.  But it’s still descriptive or narrative in nature.  Describing a fishing technique or a golf swing are good examples of the use of such a paragraph.

Expository writing is used to provide information.  Here is an example involving a famous baseball player and the fatal disease which took his life.

Silently, New York Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig handed over the unopened ketchup bottle to teammate Bill Dickey.  There was nothing complicated about it, to unscrew the cap of a ketchup bottle.  Even a child could do it.  But Gehrig no longer had the strength in his hands to even handle this simple task.  Troubled by an uncertain future, he munched his hamburger and stared out the window of the speeding train as it headed toward the next exhibition game.

It was spring, 1939.  In recent months Gehrig had noticed a puzzling diminution in his strength.  Last year his batting average had dipped below .300 for the first time in years.  And when he did hit a home run it wasn’t hit with the usual Gehrig authority.   Some shrugged it off as creeping old age.   But there were signs that something was seriously wrong.  Earlier that year a teammate had complemented Gehrig on making a routine out.  Soon it became clear even to a casual observer that he could no longer hit or play his position.

Gehrig was experiencing the onset of the debilitating disease which ultimately was to bear his name, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, known medically as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or simply ALS.   It would progressively render his muscles useless but leave his mind intact.  On May 1, 1939, Gehrig voluntarily removed himself from the Yankee lineup, bringing to an end his consecutive game streak of 2,130 games, a record which stood for the next 70 years.  The press had justifiably dubbed him “The Iron Horse” because of his durability.  He was forced to retire from the game on June 27, 1939.

Gehrig had been a devastating hitter during his years in the Yankee lineup.  With Babe Ruth batting in front of him, the duo had formed a key part of “Murderers Row,” which terrorized opposing pitching during the mid-1920s to mid- 1930s, possibly the most famous 1-2 punch in baseball history.  The number of times Gehrig came to bat with the bases loaded is not known, but what is known is that he cleared them 23 times with “grand slam” home runs, still a major league record, and quite an amazing feat considering who was batting ahead of him in the lineup.

His feats on the baseball diamond had not gone unnoticed.   Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day was held in Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939.  In front of a sell-out crowd, surrounded by his teammates and others, Gehrig gave his memorable “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” speech.  Later that year, the stricken player was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Barely two years later, on June 2, 1941, shortly before his 38th birthday, the  disease was to tragically take the Hall of Famer’s life.

The important thing to remember from all these clear writing posts is that words are powerful things.  You can learn how to harness this power by following my clear writing tips.  They are tried and tested.  They work.  Words can persuade people.  They can improve a company’s performance.  They can be very helpful when used properly.  Learn how to craft powerful messages – it’s a skill which will open doors for you that you never knew existed.      

                           

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

 

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Prepare A Comprehensive Outline For Best Writing Results

Last week’s post focused on organizing your thoughts to write better.  It dealt primarily with the preparation of a preliminary plan as the first step in organizing your thoughts before writing. Also discussed was the task of information gathering as being secondary to plan preparation.

 After gathering the information needed for your writing project, the next step is to prepare an outline.

Creation of a workable outline should begin with the big picture.  First, organize your thoughts and mentally plan your approach.  Make a note of all the ideas you generate about what you want to write.  Next, organize your ideas into a logical order.  Finally, add appropriate detail.  Much as in working a jigsaw puzzle, your reader will more easily absorb the details after seeing the big picture.  Draft an outline that is logical, cohesive, and flows smoothly.  You don’t want anyone reading a lot of pages before finally figuring out what you’re trying to say. 

In the process of preparing the outline, try to anticipate questions your reader may ask.  Organize your outline to respond to these questions.  Readers are often looking for answers, either by reading documents or visiting websites.  They want to know how to do something or to get the answer to a problem, and they want the answer as quickly and easily as possible under the circumstances.  So, keep these concerns in mind when preparing your outline.

There are three workable approaches to use in preparing an outline: traditional, the so-called “spinning wheel” method, and what may be called the “stream of consciousness” approach.  The first one envisions use of Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numbers, followed by small letters.  This traditional approach is best for presentation of material in an organized, logical fashion.  In adopting the traditional approach, the topic outline and the sentence outline are commonly used. The sentence outline requires use of complete sentences and appropriate punctuation.  Examples of both types, which I used to outline the subject “John Adams, An Unrecognized President”, appear in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” pp 23-28, which is available at amazon.com/kindle books as well as in print on Amazon.com and CreateSpace.com.

Another approach to outlining, the “spinning wheel” concept, may be better suited for the development of ideas.  This approach starts with the “hub” of the wheel as the central idea of the writing, with subsidiary ideas flowing out from the hub as the wheel’s “spokes.”

There is a third approach, what I call “stream of consciousness” for lack of a better description, which I’ve used from time to time.   Sometimes, for whatever reason, it just seems easier to start writing.  Start with the main idea for the writing.  Then, as more ideas come along, begin to create an outline and rearrange your material.  Continue to write to fill in gaps in the material.  Feel free to use this approach as long as the end result is well organized and clearly written.

Use the outline to prepare appropriate paragraph headings and subheadings.  As you are developing your outline, create as many topic headings as appears necessary for the material.  Don’t skimp in this area.  The creation of topic headings goes hand-in-glove with the preparation of your outline.

Create crisp, sharp paragraph headings and subheadings to help your reader focus on the content of each paragraph.  Arrange the paragraphs as necessary to provide a logical flow of information.  Keep in mind that short sections are better.  A long, dense paragraph is a daunting and discouraging sight.  But if your writing is presented in short, manageable, bite-sized pieces of approximately fifty to seventy five words, it will be easier to digest because the entire content of each section can be more easily captured in the heading.

Also, short sections make the document more visually appealing so it appears easier to understand.  A long section will increase the difficulty of preparing a meaningful summary of its heading.  Short sections will provide the opportunity to write more headings to go with them and should also help you to organize your writing more effectively.  In this scenario, brevity is a prince, verbosity a pauper.

Boldface the section headings to create a roadmap for quick and easy reference to your document. 

Use common sense in preparing paragraph headings.  They should not be so long as to overwhelm the reader.  On the other hand, overly broad headings such as “General” and “Scope” are not useful and are not recommended.

Once your outline is complete, you will find that the preparation of your first draft will be a much easier task.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Writing “Fitness” Is Essential To The Development Of Clear Writing Skills

Here’s a “fitness” secret to keep in mind – write every day.  It’s like your daily physical exercise, only it’s about writing.  The more you write, the faster you will become a “fit” writer.  Find something to write about, formal or informal.

For example, the other day I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal about one of my “favorite” politicians, who shall remain unnamed here.  I wrote a comment to this article and so far have received 22 recommendations to the comment.  This response was gratifying because it only took me a minute or two to write the comment, and because it apparently had a far reaching impact on other readers.

Writing fitness is like physical fitness in one respect: you should vary your approach to it so you don’t get bored.  Don’t lose focus.  Find  ways to stay motivated about your writing.  Make a commitment to yourself, set a goal, and stick to it.  A good approach that works for me is to write on a topic of interest, save it on Word, and  use it on a later date if I don’t publish it immediately.

Another way to keep fit is to work on your paragraphing.  Effective paragraphing was previously stressed on this site last March,  but the subject bears repeating.   There is more to writing a good paragraph than just stringing a few sentences together.  For one thing, overall appearance of your writing is important, so paragraphs should be uniformly indented.  Also, begin each new paragraph with a new thought.  Beware of too many short paragraphs, which suggest that a writer has not given enough thought to his writing.  Other requirements for tight paragraphs include the following:

1.  Use of a topic sentence will unify the paragraph, start the reader in the right direction, and tell the reader where you are heading.  A concluding sentence will tell the reader what you have said.

2.  Achieve paragraph coherence by clear arrangement of sentences, and connect them by use of reference words, key words, parallel structure, and transitional words and phrases.

Paragraphing can take many forms.  The following example uses narrative paragraphing to tell a story:

The lingering echoes of California’s 1849 gold rush can still be heard today.

It was a watershed event in America’s economic history, starting innocuously enough with the discovery of gold at John Sutter’s sawmill near Sacramento, California.  Pandemonium reigned with the spread of news as the influx of gold seekers into California swelled to a crescendo.  Outsiders from all over the world poured into California; they sailed around South America, crossed Panama, and swarmed in from other parts of the world.  San Francisco mushroomed from a sleepy little village to a boom town virtually overnight.

California became known as the “Golden State.”  The huge supply of gold that was ultimately generated provided riches for the  United States.  The enormous amount of gold now available enabled the U.S. Mint to add two new gold coins, the gold $1 coin and a large, heavy $20 coin (Double Eagle).

So began a new worship of money.  The discovery of gold paved the way for the transformation of pastoral America to manufacturing America and for the institution of the gold standard – paper money backed by gold and free convertibility of currency into gold.  The price of gold was pegged at $20 per ounce.

But the gold standard worked to the disadvantage of indebted farmers, who favored bimetallism (as did Alexander Hamilton), and the minting of silver coins to create cheap money.  Their struggle with depressed crop prices in the late nineteenth century was aggravated by a shortage of money and an escalation of the farmer-banker conflict.

Banker J. Pierpont Morgan was a strong advocate for the gold standard.  But to William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic nominee for president in 1896, Morgan was a Pontius Pilate who nailed starving farmers to a cross of gold.  The agrarian fanatical hatred for the gold standard was reflected in Bryan’s famous speech at the 1896 Democratic convention, when he passionately proclaimed to thunderous applause that “mankind shall not be crucified on a cross of gold.”

America eventually departed from the gold standard in 1933 when President  Franklin D. Roosevelt, responding to the depression, impounded all the country’s gold.    In 1971, because of a serious cash flow crisis, President Richard Nixon permanently closed the gold window by decreeing that the U.S. would not exchange gold for dollars for anyone.

With the departure of the gold standard came the untrammeled printing of money by the U.S. and other nations.  This creation of easy money (fiat money, i.e., money created by government decree) leading to excessive spending and the resulting budget deficits have arguably directly contributed to the sovereign debt crisis plaguing much of the world today.  As a solution, some analysts are now calling for a hardening of currencies and a return to the gold standard.

 One of the simplest teaching vehicles to illustrate the viability of the foregoing paragraphing concepts, believe it or not, is a recipe.  Here’s a recipe for “California Gold Rush Brownies.” My wife has been making them for years.   The recipe is as easy as pie (no pun intended) and makes great brownies!

 Only four ingredients are required.  They are as follows: 30 whole Honey Maid graham crackers, 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk, 1 tablespoon of milk, and 12 ounces of chocolate chips.

Preparation of the ingredients for baking is easy.  Break up the graham crackers and add them, a few at a time, to a food processor, grinding them until very fine.  Place the ground up crackers in a bowl with the sweetened condensed milk and 1 tablespoon of regular milk.  Mix well and blend in the chocolate chips.

Baking is the next step.  Place the mixture into a well buttered 9 by 12 inch baking pan, pressing down evenly.  Bake them in a 350 degree oven about 25 to 30 minutes until the sides start to separate from the pan.  These brownies are best when soft, so don’t overcook them as they will become too dry.

Finally, let the brownies cool and cut them into squares.  The recipe makes 24 to 30 squares, depending on how big they are cut and what size pan is used.  Add chopped nuts if desired.

WARNING: these brownies are habit forming and disappear fast.  They never disappoint.  You’ll have to taste them to believe it!

 I selected this recipe to use  because it’s easy to formulate topic sentences for the paragraphs.  While you don’t have to use topic sentences in this recipe because it’s so short, using them here will help you get in the habit of using them.

Both the narrative paragraph and the brownie recipe will be found in my forthcoming eBook, “The Art of Clear Writing,” soon to be published on Kindle.

My article, “Antietam and Gettysburg – Two Pivotal Civil War Battles That Saved the Union,” is presently available on Kindle.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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