Did a teacher or professor ever say your writing was choppy––but you had no idea how to cure that malady? When you review an important item you’re about to send to your boss or a client, perhaps by reading it aloud, do you ever feel as if you’re driving over rumble strips?
That problem can be easily solved. Let’s say you wrote the following:
“I propose that we form a coed employee softball team. I believe such an activity would serve as a morale-builder for the players and other employees who just want to have fun together watching the games. A team will also raise our company profile in the community.
“I feel confident that an announcement about forming a team will create a buzz and that we will have little trouble recruiting enough players. I am happy to answer any questions you might have, and I am quite willing to serve as the ‘general manager’ of the team if you want me to.”
Does this email deserve high marks for content, clarity, conciseness, and correctness? Yes. So it’s practically a 10. It lacks only a pleasant cadence, which isn’t important in every workplace communication, but let’s pretend this one merits an extra minute or two of editing. Where do we start?
The main reason for a choppy rhythm is a monotonous subject-verb structure. Notice how the sentences begin: “I propose.” I believe.” “A team will.” “I feel.” “I am.” Because every sentence starts with the subject and verb––and because nearly every one of those subjects is “I”––we may be distracting the reader with a staccato rhythm.
Fortunately, the antidote is simple. Just find a different way to begin one or two of the sentences or, on occasion, package two sentences as one, and you’ll get rid of the rumble strip effect. Here is how the paragraphs above might be tweaked to meet that end:
“I propose that we form a coed employee softball team to serve as a morale-builder for players and other employees who just want to have fun together watching the games. Moreover, a team will raise our company profile in the community.
“Because an announcement about forming a team is likely to create a buzz, I’m confident we will have little trouble recruiting enough players. If you have any questions, I am happy to answer them, and I am quite willing to serve as the ‘general manager’ of the team if you want me to.”
Now the sentences start with “I,” “Moreover,” “Because,” and “If.”
Moral of the story? By watching out for a monotonous structure and gradually expanding our stockpile of words and phrases that enable us to vary the beginnings of our sentences, we become stronger writers. Here are a few random examples in addition to “Moreover,” “Because,” and “If”:
And • But • Now that • When • After • As a result • Nevertheless • Once • On the other hand • In fact • In addition • As soon as • Coincidentally • Fortunately • Ironically • Clearly
Postscript. Another handy sentence beginning––woefully underused––is the participle (an “-ing” word), as in the following two examples:
Realizing that our consultant can’t meet with us until the 15th, I’d like to delay submission of our proposal by one week.
Appreciating my help in smoothing out his writing, Joe is treating me to happy hour at Paddy’s Pub tonight. I’ll drink to that.
In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml.