I’ve just been reading a fantastic book by Stanley Fish called How to write a sentence and how to read one. At the start of the book he describes the way words ‘slide into their pre-ordained slots’ in a well constructed sentence. I think this is an accurate description of the writing process. I’m sure that you’ve experienced writing a sentence, hitting the delete button and re-writing the sentence repeatedly until it feels just right. Not only do you need to hunt for the perfect word, you need to arrange the words in the perfect order and this is often a matter of trial and error.
Good writing is not just about choosing the right words, the relationship between the words also matters. This is called syntax. Where grammar is concerned with rules, syntax is about how words and phrases are arranged in a well formed sentenced.
Striving for well formed sentences can be hard work, so where do you start?
First of all, you need to accept that you will need to edit your work. (As a case in point, that sentence started off as ‘first of all, you need to accept that you will probably need to write and re-write every sentence numerous times’).
Secondly, remove any fluffy parts of the sentences that don’t really add anything of value. For example, I originally started this post by talking about how much I like reading, but I deleted it because it was irrelevant. (Also, it’s quite obvious that I like reading or I wouldn’t talk about it quite so much!)
Thirdly, use active voice. This is much less complicated than it sounds. You just need to get the subject in your sentence (usually a person or thing) to do something, rather than having something done to them (that’s why its called passive voice).
Here’s an example…
Passive: The ball was thrown by Ben.
Active: Ben threw the ball.
And another one…
Passive: The activity needs to be completed by all staff in the organisation.
Active: Everyone needs to complete this activity.
Or even better: You need to complete this activity.
So there you have it, it’s as simple as one, two, three.
Wan’t to chime in with your opinion? Feel free!