UNDERSTANDING THE SHAPE OF SENTENCES

You have to be able to write clear, concise and long sentences. This lesson focuses on how to write longer sentences that are clear and shapely.

Readers get a sense of shapeless length from 4 things (be on the look out not to make these mistakes)

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1. They don’t find a sentences point near its beginning.

2. They have to wait too long to get to the verb in the main clause.

3. After the verb, they have to slog through a series of tacked-on phrases and subordinate clauses.

4. They are stopped by one interruption after another.

STARTING WITH YOUR POINT

Open with a brief main clause stating the most important point clearly and concisely which is familiar to readers, directly followed by a verb stating a specific action. A point clearly stated up front gives us a context to understand the complexity that it follows.

When we read its point first, we can anticipate the relevance of the next words even before we read them.

General Principle about how we read: we can best manage complexity when we begin with something short and direct that frames the more complex information that follows.

Principle of simple-before-complex exist with all lengths of writing from sentences, paragraphs, sections to whole essays or documents. Here is an example of a sentence.

Example) [High-deductible health plans and Health Savings Accounts into which workers and their employers make tax-deductible deposits] explanation/support [result in workers taking more responsibility for their healthcare.] point

Example) [Workers take more responsibility for their healthcare.] point [when they adopt a high-deductible insurance plans and Health Savings Accounts into which they and their employers make tax-deductible deposits] explanation/support

HOW TO REVISE: LONG OPENINGS

Readers like to find a sentences point near its beginning, but they wont if it takes them forever to get started. Two rules of thumb about beginning a sentence;

1. Rule of Thumb # 1 – Get to the Subject of the main clause quickly.

Tip: When you have a sentence with a very long introductory clause, try moving that clause to the end. If it doesn’t fit there then try turning it into a sentence of its own.

2. Rule of Thumb # 2 – Get to the Verb and Object Quickly.

Tip: Avoid long, abstract subjects by revising them into shorter ones. Avoid interrupting the subject-verb connection. Avoid interrupting the verb-object connection.

The Main Points: Make it easy for the reader by quickly getting them to the subject of your main clause and then past that subject to it’s verb and object. Avoid long introductory phrases and clauses, long subjects, and interruptions between subjects and verbs and between verbs and objects.

HOW TO REVISE: SPRAWLING ENDINGS

1. Cut – Try reducing some of the relative clauses to phrases by deleting who/that/which + is/was, etc.

2. Turn subordinate clauses into independent sentences.

3. Change clauses to modifying phrases (resumptive, summative, or free modifier).

4. Coordinate – The foundation for a gracefully shaped sentence.

The Main Points: Revise by editing the abstractions into characters/subjects and actions/verbs and then breaking the sentences into shorter ones. Avoid tacking on relative clause onto another onto another and try extending the line of a sentence with resumptive, summative and free modifiers.

A UNIFYING PRINCIPLE: SHORT TO LONG

Well-formed coordination is distinguished by elegant prose and how writers elaborate all these devices for extending the line of a sentence by adding a parallelism to obtain a balanced coordination. The devices will be discussed in lesson 11.

Coordination lets the writer extend the line of a sentence more gracefully than by tacking on one element to another. When you coordinate, try to order the elements so that they go from shorter to longer, from simpler to more complex.

TROUBLESHOOTING LONG SENTENCES

Even when they don’t sprawl, long sentences can still go wrong and here are some common problems.

1) Faulty Grammatical Coordination

2) Faulty Rhetorical Coordination

3) Unclear Connections

4) Ambiguous Modifiers

5) Dangling Modifiers

SUMMING IT UP

1) Get quickly to the subject, then to the verb and its object:

Avoid long introductory phrases and clauses. Revise them into their own independent clauses.

Avoid long subjects. Revise a long subject into an introductory subordinate clause. If the introductory clause is long, shift it to the end of its sentence or just break it out in a sentence of its own.

Avoid interrupting subjects and verbs and also verbs and objects. Move the interrupting element to either the beginning or end of the sentence, depending on what the next sentence is about.

2) Open the sentence with its point in a short main clause stating the key claim that you want the sentence to make.

3) After the main clause, avoid adding one subordinate clause to another and another.

Trim relative clauses and break the sentence into two.

Extend a sentence with a resumptive, summative or free modifier.

Coordinate elements that are parallel both in grammar and in sense.

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