Putting Two School Rules in Context


If emancipation from two no-nos we had to heed in school will make your day, I’ll try. Let’s review.

The fragment

Back in fifth or seventh grade––and maybe high school––we weren’t allowed to write sentence fragments because our teachers needed to make sure we understood the difference between a complete sentence and an incomplete one. But with maturity come privileges. So if you have already recovered from the school days prohibition and are comfortably dropping in an occasional fragment for impact or rhythm, I applaud you. Anything to keep our readers engaged. (See, I just did it.)

But if you are still committed to showing your readers that you recognize when a sentence is complete, I applaud you too. You have standards. At the same time, however, I’ll suggest that you can expand your stylistic possibilities by seeing how it feels to throw in a fragment now and then (which you are probably doing already in bulleted lists that haven’t drawn any readers’ scorn).

Don’t you agree that the fragments ending these statements add punch?
If you give me all the information, I can get you a quote soon. Probably by Thursday.
I just figured out who’s replacing Sam. No one.
Please confine your summary to a page or less. Preferably, a lot less. 

Advertisers do it. Marketers do it. Journalists do it. Maybe it’s time for you to consider the power of fragments––sprinkled in judiciously, of course, for the right reader in the right situation. (And watch out for mixing full sentences and fragments in those bulleted lists. That makes the rhythm discordant and distracting.)

The one-sentence paragraph

Most of us are quite comfortable writing paragraphs containing just one sentence in emails and texts, but we might shy away from that practice in letters, memos, reports, proposals, or any other document that seems more formal.

Why? Again, the reason for toeing the line is conditioning we acquired in school that was important then and not important now. Teachers might have justifiably barred one-sentence paragraphs when they were looking for us to support our point of view, such as on a theme or essay exam. (And they might have been aiming objections at the kids who were unconfident about knowing when to start a new paragraph and solved the problem by starting one after every sentence.)

But we know that one-sentence paragraphs sell products (“Just do it.”), and they can help us sell ideas. An isolated, persuasive sentence, such as this one, commands attention:

I enthusiastically recommend spicing up your writing with occasional one-sentence paragraphs.

School is out! Live it up.

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.

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