Tip 3 - Keep the subject, the verb and the object of a sentence together.

Good writing makes the reader's job effortless. Good writing doesn't force the reader to stop and then go back to understand its meaning. Good writing follows the prescribed sentence structure of the language it is written in. Thus, good writing - in English - follows the rule of keeping the subject, verb, and object of a sentence as close together as possible.

While it sounds simple, it may not come as naturally for non-native English speakers because it is a grammatical structure that can be quite different from that of other languages. For example, in certain tenses in German, the verb comes at the very end of the sentence, or say, in French, passive constructions are common so that the actor of the sentence is not starting but finishing the text.

Yet, even native English speakers break the natural order of subject-verb-object when uncalled for, and this is most often done in legal writing. Legal writing is plagued with constant modifiers and intervening clauses that split actors from their actions as well as objects from those actions. Lawyers tend to include these modifiers to ensure nothing is misinterpreted and all issues are covered; it is often a necessary evil of writing about the law. The problem arises when these intervening phrases are so long that you tax the readers' short-term memories and they lose grasp of who is doing what.

To solve this problem, you can break your sentence into two (or more), or you may be able to simply rearrange these clauses by moving modifiers to the beginning or end of your sentences while your subjects, verbs, and objects remain close together. Here's an example:

Before

The application to the Court of First Instance, although organized ineffectively and not making the proper legal conclusions for some of its major arguments, was nevertheless submitted by the law firm.

After

The law firm submitted its application to the Court of First Instance despite the document's ineffective organization and improper legal conclusions in some of its major arguments.

(Also note how using strong subject-verb-object connections can help omit needless words (see Tip 2).)

Here is another example where the sentence was broken up instead of rearranging clauses:

Before

The former official, on the basis of anonymity and in exchange for my promise that I would not record our conversation nor take notes, agreed, although hesitantly and still cautiously, to speak to me about flaws that were found by her in the course of her employment at the institute in the controversial decision, but were nonetheless ignored by her former colleagues.

After

Although hesitant and cautious, the former official agreed to speak to me as long as I did not record our conversation nor reveal her identity. She discussed flaws in the controversial decision that she found while working at the institution. Her ex-colleagues ignored these flaws.

CAVEAT: Breaking up this prescribed structure is warranted and even necessary in certain instances. For example, you may want to highlight a particular fact in an intervening clause and so changing the structure will draw attention to that clause. Also, if you wish to avoid potential ambiguity, it may be best to place a modifying clause as close to the word or phrase it modifies, thereby, breaking the rules. For example, see the difference between the before and after paragraphs below. The meanings are quite different!

Before

The politicians came to a decision to fill the holes and cracks in the city's streets with their political party leaders before the election.

After

The politicians decided with their party leaders to fill the holes and cracks in the city's streets before the election.

Indeed, rules are meant to be broken. However, it is best to understand the rules and abide by them, knowing that you can derogate when necessary. This, too, is the essence of good writing.



Previous Tip - Omit needless words

Next Tip - Use the active voice, which speaks louder than the passive voice.

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