If anyone advises you to write the way you speak, feel free to beat them about the head with a rolled-up newspaper. If you took such advice, your writing would be riddled with space-filler words, repetition, and would almost certainly go off on any number of tangents. One common mistake is using overly long sentences. Here’s how to nip that particular problem in the bud.
But before we go further, let’s acknowledge that sentences don’t always need to be short. Reports, tenders and proposals often have complex points which need to be explained and longer sentences are fine here. On the other hand, wording for direct mail, website copy, brochures and marketing doesn’t lend itself well to lengthy explanations. Above all, the most important thing is to be clear.
So, what can you do to make your sentences sharper, easier to read and packed with meaning?
- Say goodbye to too many ‘ands’ and ‘buts’. Sentences that include lots of these will read far better if the’re broken down into two or more. There’s an easy way to test this. Read aloud the sentence you’ve just written in one breath. If you feel giddy from lack of oxygen, it’s a sure sign it’s way too long.
- Choose different sentence openings. They don’t all need to begin with ‘the’, and definitely not always with ‘I’. Try substituting ‘the’ with you, therefore, consequently, plus, next, when, with while, or when, for example. It makes reading so much more enjoyable and gives your work far better flow.
- Use short words where you can. Less is more. Go for simplicity.
- Tidy up your writing by checking for unnecessary use of identical words or phrases. For example, which of the following sounds better?
‘Migrant arrivals between July 2015 and June 2016 increased significantly. The increase of arrivals between July 2014 and July 2015, is mostly attributed to…’
‘Migrant arrivals between July 2015 and July 2016 increased significantly, mostly due to…’
- Check your punctuation. It helps the flow of your message and can ensure the reader gets the correct meaning. And, just like our earlier point on ‘ands’ and ‘buts’, too many commas in one sentence can lead to reader exhaustion.
As always, it’s a great idea to ask a work colleague or friend to read over your work before you publish it. Their feedback can be mighty valuable!