Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

Long, complex sentences. Theyre the modern turn-off - replacing stuffiness.

Complex? They're sentences that depend on something that follows to make sense. If your sentence doesn't make sense until the second line you are asking your reader to work too hard.

Here's one I sometimes show in workshops. Let's put it to the test with you.

'Owing to the increasing number of appliations we have been receiving since the decision was announced, and also the shortage of staff, particularly during school holidays, when parents who cannot make alternative arrangements take tme off to be with their children, there will be some delays in replying and it is unlikely that we will meet our key performance indicators.'

Did you skim? Join the crowd. You didn't miss much. (Well, maybe the missing i in time.)

You did read it all? Well done. Would you like another monstrosity like that?

Long, even beautifully-crafted sentences, might have worked for Jane Austen, but these days we have more competition for our attention, especially at work. We'll skim whenever the text is too much like hard work.

The problem is not just the length of the sentence. Those words Owing to set us up for the kind of sentence that implies, 'I'm going to tell you something, but just before I do I want to tell you something else'. Background information will follow.

You could fall into the same trap by begining your sentences with Although, Given that or Due to. They shouldn't be a problem if you get to the point quickly, but usually they mark the beginning of a long and convoluted sentence.

But wait there's more...

If you write convoluted sentences you risk running into grammatical problems. I can horrify trainees with energy-sapping grammatical rules they can avoid with simpler sentences. Who really wants to know about the intervening prepositional phrase or the inelegant compound possessive? Who needs to?

Modern professional writers are far more interested in engaging their readers. Cramming ideas into sentences makes no sense to them.

Here's the best rule of all

One idea per sentence, then join compatible sentences together to give your readers variety. (Each part of your longer sentence should make sense on its own.)

Much easier to write. Much easier to read.