Making sense of sentences: 3 traps to avoid

18 November 2019

Poor sentence structure is one of the most common ways workplace written communications, such as emails, become derailed. Although there are many ways to increase readability, sentences are the basic unit of writing. If your sentences are long, verbose or poorly structured, you'll very quickly lose your reader.

Avoid these three common sentence traps at all cost.

Trap 1. Long and verbose sentences. Long, poorly punctuated sentences that contain more than one idea will be difficult for the reader to understand. Aim for one idea per sentence with an average of between 15 and 20 words per sentence and avoid sentences over 30 words. To make your writing flow, use a mixture of longer and shorter sentences. 

Good writing

Long and verbose

Disjointed

Beware of crash diets. Small changes can make a big difference. Choose healthy foods and exercise regularly.

Be aware that crash diets can be deleterious to your health and you can make a big difference to your health by adoption of small changes by way of making healthy food choices and by making sure you get plenty of regular exercise.

Beware crash diets. Small changes make a big difference. Choose healthy foods. Exercise regularly.

Trap 2. Incorrect sentence structure. One of the most common errors in sentence structure is using a comma when a fullstop is needed. To join ideas in a single sentence, you need to link the ideas with words like ‘and’ or ‘as well as’, not a comma. If you’re not sure of the rules of punctuation, try reading your communication aloud. A short pause signifies a comma. A long pause is where the full stop needs to go. 

Correct

Incorrect

Measles is highly infectious and contagious for people who are not fully immunised. It is easily spread through coughing and sneezing.

Measles is highly infectious and contagious for people who are not fully immunised, it is easily spread through coughing and sneezing.

Trap 3. Incomplete sentences. In a fast-paced world dominated by instant communication, you may try to save time by clipping the sentences in your emails rather than writing sentences in full. This is particularly tempting if you're composing the message on a smartphone. In emails, it is courteous to use full sentences rather than note style, especially when communicating with clients or the public. Full sentences will also increase readability.

Acceptable

Unacceptable

We have investigated the February data breach and will email you our report by 5pm today.

Feb. data breach investigated & report to you by COB.

Writing well-structured sentences is essential in business writing. Long and verbose or poorly structured sentences will reduce readability and will reflect poorly on the professionalism of your organisation.

For help writing clear, concise business communications, contact Concise Writing Consultancy today on 02 9238 6631.

 

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