Day 10 – Getting to Grips with Sentence Structure
At the heart of everything you write is a sentence. Yet it often gets neglected when a person sits down to write. It’s normally taken for granted. Taking care of your sentences can make a huge difference to your reader. It can entertain them or if done badly, can bore and confuse them.
1. The Basics
Copy-writing is very different to academic writing. The aim of copy-writing is to make sure your promotional copy is engaging and readable to the audience. It doesn’t follow pure grammatical rules.
However, the one grammatical rule it should follow is the rule of word order. Sentences should follow the normal sequence of subject-verb-object.
Take a look at these two sentences:
The programme, 31 days to write better copy, continues to be widely read on a daily basis.
Continuing to be well received is the programme, 31 days to write better copy, by an increasing audience.
Which one reads better?
Sentence 1 reads well. You can understand it. It has a subject (the programme), a verb (continues) and object (widely read).
Sentence 2, on the other hand, is cumbersome. The verb (continues) precedes the subject (the programme) and object (audience).
When crafting sentences, think of your reader. You are taking up their time, whereby they could be doing something else. Appreciate that time by making your documents as readable and approachable as possible.
2. Sentence Length
Adding variety to your sentences will add rhythm to your document and help to avoid it becoming boring. There is nothing worse than too many short sentences or too many long sentences.
Just as a monotone speech bores the audience, a monotone document will too. Do you want your documents to sound like Ferris Bueller’s teacher?:
To avoid your text sounding like Ferris Bueller’s teacher, try varying your sentence length and be specific about your points.
This is a memo written by the head of garden depot for a large retail store
We balanced the books this past summer when we noticed that tree manure sales were down by as much as turnover for grass seed went up. Chatting to the lads over at Westbere and they said that heavy rains kept people from gardening. In the end, we are up 25%.
This is how his assistant changed it before the memo went to the Board of Directors:
This summer, we made an overall profit of 25%. This is down on last year due to a number of reasons. Firstly, sales of tree manure, a high margin product, were down. Secondly, grass seed sales was the number one seller but have a very low margin. Thirdly, the unseasonal amount of rain discouraged people from regular gardening.
The first paragraph had a mixture of short and long sentences. The shortest sentence was 7 words; the longest 26. The second paragraph also had a mixture of short and long sentences. The shortest sentence was 9 words; the longest 15.
So both added variety to the sentence structure. However, as a group of sentences, the first paragraph has a lot of compressed information with no real specifics except for the last sentence. The reader will invariably have to read it again. Whereas with the second paragraph, the sentences flow well together.
The key to rhythmic sentences is to read aloud. You’ll get a better feel for the sentence length and structure. You’ll also sense if there is rhythm in the sentence or if it is mono-toned.
3. The (over) use of ‘And‘
‘And’ is a useful word. It joins two related thoughts of equal importance together. Too often it is over-used when two ideas are not of equal importance or when another word would suffice instead. Here is a great example of using ‘and’ correctly in a sentence.
“The CFO is on holidays and the CEO is at a conference.”
Here is an example where and is used incorrectly.
“The CFO is on holidays and sales have decreased.”
It implies that profits are down because the CFO is on holidays, when it is a mere coincidence. These two ideas or thoughts are not related. Another way to write the above sentence is “While the CFO is on holidays, sales have decreased.” or “Sales have decreased in the same time period that the CFO was away.“
Try to reduce your use of the word ‘and‘. Highlight every ‘and‘ that you have in your document and see if you can use another word. Here are three examples where ‘and’ is used but another word or phrase could have been used.
Deliveries were delayed and orders were lost.
Because of the delay with deliveries, the company lost orders.
Appreciate your staff and your staff will be happy.
If you appreciate your staff, they will be happy
I arrived in Dublin and realised I’d forgotten the phone.
When I arrived in Dublin, I realised I’d forgotten the phone.
4. Link Words
Sentences should roll together to keep with the flow of the document. If one sentence ‘jars‘ after another one, the reader has to stop. This can lead to the meaning to be lost, or the document to be discarded.
Link sentences together using such words as the following. Begin a sentence with these where appropriate and the flow of your sentences should remain intact.
Day 10 – Homework
Take the ‘About us’ page from your website and re-assess it using the following questions
1.How many paragraphs do you have?
2.What’s the longest sentence?
3.Can you break up the longest sentence into two shorter sentences?
4.How many ‘and’s’ do you have?
5.Do you use link words to connect sentences?
Edit the text after answering the questions.