hand holding a pen over a journal

2 Tips for Writing Better Prose

Tip 1: Vary Your Sentence Length

One sure way to put your readers to sleep is to write with constant-length sentences. Change the length for a better copy.

SHORT SENTENCE Copy:

“Times are bad. Economy’s tanking. Latest figures are not good. Government published a report. It confirms the rumors. We’re in a recession.”

LONG SENTENCE Copy:

“We are going through some turbulent times these days. Our economy, which is supposed to be doing well according to some indicators, is showing strains of high unemployment and the effects of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The latest figures quoted in leading industry journals and publications do not instill confidence in analysts and consumers alike. The Department of Commerce has just published a White Paper citing several Wall Street observers who claimed that we are nowhere near the end of this current impasse. Whether we like to admit it or not, the facts are staring us in the face: we seem to be sliding headlong into a recession the likes of which have not been since the ’30s.”

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Let’s mash up the two styles:

BETTER Copy:

“Times are bad. Our economy, which is supposed to be doing well according to some indicators, is showing strains of high unemployment and the effects of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Economy’s tanking? Perhaps. The latest figures quoted in leading industry journals and publications do not instill confidence. The Department of Commerce has just published a report which confirms the worst: we’re in a recession.”

Tip 2: Use Parallel Construction

When you are drawing up lists or forming compound sentences with multiple clauses, maintain the same grammatical structure in all parts.

If, for example, you start a list item with an action verb, start all the other items also with action verbs to ensure maximum comprehension and retention.

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Here is a good example of a list:

Before you embark on a trip, make sure you:

* make a hotel reservation;

* take your pills;

* suspend paper delivery; and

* withdraw cash from the bank.

Make, Take, Suspend, Withdraw are all verbs in imperative (order) mode. The construction is “parallel.”

bad example:

Before you embark on a trip, make sure you:

* make a hotel reservation;

* your pills should be with you;

* paper delivery must be suspended; and

* have you visited the bank to withdraw some cash?.

Items start with a verb (make), a personal pronoun (your), a noun (paper), and another verb. The construction is not parallel. Such a list is harder to follow and remember.

 

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