Some of the following suggestions comes from Bruce Ross-Larson, founder of the American Writing Institute (not to be confused with the American Writers & Artists Institute) and author of Edit Yourself, a book Ive recommended in the past.
Writing Good Sentences The Two Biggest Secrets
Before you can write a persuasive memo or an effective sales letter, you must be capable of writing a good sentence. The first Golden Rule of sentence writing is to express one, and only one, idea in each sentence. (Ross-Larson allows for two closely related ideas in one sentence.)
The second Golden Rule of sentence writing and this ones from me is to make sure the idea you are expressing is a good one.
The mistakes made by not following these two rules are extremely common. They are responsible Ill bet for 60% to 80% of bad writing. Not only are they proliferate, they are deadly. Break either of the Golden Rules of Sentence Writing and you are in trouble. Break both at once and you will make your reader wonder how smart you really are.
Ross-Larson Identifies 5 Types of Sentences:
The simplest and thus the clearest, the direct sentence has one main clause and is the starting point for countless variants.
Example: Smart eateries are putting peculiar mushrooms on the menu.
The first common variant to the direct sentence is to attach a phrase at the beginning, middle, or end.
Example: By all means, Alabama has made itself more like the rest of America.
The second common variant to the direct sentence is to add a comment or definition by means of a which clause.
Example: The book also suffers more than usual from Elshtains prose style, which is earnest at best and plodding at worst.
You can condition the main clause with another clause beginning with when, if, because, since, as and so on.
Example: When Mr. Clinton toasts Mr.Jiang at the White House next week, there will be no shortage of critics to accuse him of supping with the devil.
Another variant is to combine the above structures and multiply their parts.
Example: The number of men who consider working women to be worse mothers has dropped precipitously since 1970, but the number of women who think so has dropped far less sharply.
5 Techniques to Improve Your Sentences:
1. Make your sentences short. Ross-Larson recommends that sentences not exceed 22 words (about two lines of print).
2. Vary length. Every third or fourth sentence should be short. It is acceptable nowadays to shorten sentences by using sentence fragments partial sentences.
Example: All the crusading doesnt reassure the public. Just the opposite.
Occasionally, its good to use extra-short and/or fragments to begin or end paragraphs. And you can string two or three short sentences together to create cadence.
Example: Literature is invention. Fiction is faction. To carry a story line a true story is an insult to both art and truth.
3. To give your sentences a quick stop-and-go, use the interruptive dash.
Example: New York is a city ripe with extremes of wealth and poverty, of creative energy and rage.
4. Employ the imperative to grab attention.
Example: Trek to the tops of mountains, the sources of rivers, and the earths icebound poles.
5. Address your readers directly to make your message personal and compelling.
Example: As a parent, you want to do everything possible to keep your children from experimenting with drugs.
Make These Techniques Work For You
Okay, I think thats enough for today. If I give you any more, youll be overwhelmed.
Keep these rules and techniques in your head (or jot them down on a note card) and edit your next memo or letter accordingly. Youll see an immediate improvement. Your writing will have more energy and power. Practice this for a week and you will lock in some new, good writing habits.
Next Thursday after youve mastered these fundamentals Ill teach you some advanced ways to make your writing even stronger.
[Ed. Note. Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]