How to Construct Clear Sentences and Paragraphs

Elena GAGIU « Universitatea din Piteşti » This article aims at showing how to build clear sentences and paragraphs. This procedure involves adaptation to the knowledge level of the subjects. In adapting sentences, one should make them short , especially when communicating with readers who are characterized by low reading ability. Short sentences can be made in two ways: by limiting sentence content or using words economically. Limiting content involves making separate sentences of the thoughts one communicates. Using words economically involves looking for shorter ways of saying things. Some specific suggestions are the following: (1) Avoid cluttering phrases; (2) Eliminate surplus words; (3) Avoid roundabout ways of saying things; (4) Avoid unnecessary repetition. Every item that is communicated should be given the right emphasis which is determined by the way points are combined. Thus, short sentences emphasize points, longer sentences deemphasize points. Sentences must have unity and it can be achieved by not combining unrelated thoughts, by eliminating excessive detail and by avoiding illogical constructions. One should construct paragraphs designed to communicate. They must be given good movement, ensuring that they move step by step toward the goal. Clear paragraphs involve logic and imagination. Such paragraphs have unity. It means they are built around a single topic or idea. Generally, they are short. I. Adaptation Constructing clear sentences involves adaptation. That is, it involves fitting sentences to the minds of the intended readers and it requires some analysis of the readers. One should consider their knowledge of the subject, their education and their intelligence. Then, with this information in mind, one should construct the sentences that are likely to communicate best with them. Thus, in writing to the lower levels, one should use simpler sentence designs. In writing to the higher levels, one can use more complex designs. In adapting sentences, one should aim a little below the level of one’s reader. Therefore, some degree of simplification is best for all readers. II. Emphasis on Short Sentences The stress should be laid on short sentences which communicate better because of mind limitations. The more words and the more relationships in a sentence, the greater the possibility for misunderstanding. What constitutes a short, readable sentence, of course, is related to the reader’s ability. According to readability studies, writing intended to communicate with the middle-level adult reader should average around 16 to 18 words per sentence. For more advanced readers, the average may be higher. For lower levels, it should be lower. The emphasis on short sentences does not mean that occasionally one may not use long sentences which are useful in subordinating information. Sometimes the information needed to complete a thought requires a long sentence. What one should be concerned about is the average. Writing in simple, short sentences involves two basic techniques. The first is to limit sentence content and the second is the technique of expressing thoughts in fewer words, that is of economizing on words used. 13

One should work to avoid these effects by varying the lengths and ordering the parts of one’s sentences. our collaboration will cease. 14 . Cluttering Phrase Shorter Substitution Along the lines of At the present time For the purpose of For the reason that In accordance with In the amount of In the meantime In the near future In the neighbourhood of In very cases In view of the fact that On the basis of On the occasion of With regard to With a view to In spite of the fact that Like Now For Because. eliminating the surplus words requires recasting the sentence. II. some shorter than others. thoughts should be combined into one sentence. As with most writing suggestions. the sentence becomes stronger and with no loss of meaning: These records show an increase in special appropriations. Since By For Meanwhile Soon About Seldom Since. Anything one writes can be expressed in many ways. Because By On About To Even though To write economically. Dropping these words. Limiting Sentence Content Limiting sentence content is largely a matter of mentally selecting thought units and making separate sentences of most of them. In general. The beginning phrase is uneconomical. are clearer and make reading more interesting.2. they can just be left out. An often-used uneconomical wording is the cluttering phrase which should be replaced by shorter wording without loss of meaning.1. Sometimes. But sometimes. A review of the following partial list with suggested substitutions should help one reduce them in one’s writing. Here is an example of a cluttering phrase: In the event that payment is not made by December. the little savings add up. This is an example of surplus wording from a business report: It will be noted that these records show an increase in special appropriations. one can overdo writing short sentences whose succession can give the impression of elementary writing. one should eliminate the words that add nothing to the sentence meaning. The beginning words of the sentences say little that is not implied. however. our collaboration will cease. the shorter wordings save the reader time.II. The word if can substitute for it without loss of meaning: If payment is not made by December. When thoughts are closely related or when one wants to deemphasize content. Economizing on Words Economizing on words used is the second way to shorten sentences. as well as draw the attention from the content to the choppy effect of the sentences. Although the shorter forms may save only a word or two.

So does repeating an idea. In view of the fact that she was good at foreign languages. Roundabout Direct and to the Point During the time she was employed by this company. Usually. We should plan in advance for the future. Since she was good at foreign languages. The price increase will afford the company The price increase will enable the an opportunity to retire the debt. Contains Surplus Words Eliminates Surplus Words He ordered desks that are of the executive type. But all too often it is without purpose. Sometimes repetition serves a purpose. By acting now. the surplus words can be eliminated without changing the meaning. He criticized everyone he came in contact with. increased. Mrs. There are two rules that should be considered. Some cover the same ground in a slow. 15 I think the plan is sound. Repeating words obviously adds length to the sentence.The following sentences illustrate the use of surplus words. One should try to avoid such repetitions. In the period between March and May we Between March and May we detected detected the problem. the problem. was worthless. Some of the ways are direct and to the point. the direct ways are shorter and communicate better. One should know the fundamentals of clear writing. numerous other Numerous other defects mark the defects mark the operating procedure. In addition to these defects. roundabout way. as when it is used for emphasis or for special effect. While employed by this company. In each case. As we have noticed. company to retire the debt. It is essential that the income be used to retire the debt. . Do the words can be observed to be decreasing get to the point directly? Is the idea of observing really essential? Is new needed? A more direct and better sentence is this one: The department budget decreases each year. We should plan. Mrs. Please endorse your name on the back of this check. Reference is made to your report in which you Your report concluded that the warranty concluded that the warranty was worthless. He criticized everyone he met. One should know the basic fundamentals of clear writing. one can write anything in many ways. operating procedure. Here is an example of a roundabout construction: The department budget can be observed to be decreasing each new year. Craw was absent once. The president believes the tax was paid. we can finish sooner than if we wait until a later date. Examples of unnecessary repetitions and ways to cut them are these: Needless repetition Repetition Eliminated In my opinion I think the plan is sound. they asked her to join their project. The president is of the opinion that the tax was paid. By acting now. they asked her to join their project. Please endorse this check. Two rules should be considered. I am prepared to report to the effect that sales I am prepared to report that sales increased. Craw was absent once. we can finish sooner. He ordered executive-type desks. The income must be used to retire the debt.

one gets more emphasis than the other. return it to us. If two ideas are presented equally (in independent clauses for example). He has a law degree. the main clause provides the unity of the sentence: Mr. For a sentence to have unity. Any written business communication contains a number of items of information. It might be better to make each into separate sentences: Mr. (c) One can add words that show how the ideas are related.1. Violations of unity in sentence construction fall into three categories: (1) unrelated ideas. Determining emphasis is a matter of good judgement. They must combine to complete the single goal of the sentence. In other words. Jordan. One’s task as a writer is to determine the importance of each item and then to form one’s sentences to communicate this importance. He stated he felt we were responsible. (2) excessive detail. If you are not satisfied. Items can be made to stand out. Our new model is longer in length than the old one. If you are not satisfied. Adding words to show relationship of the thoughts is illustrated in the following example: Our production increased in May and our equipment is wearing out. In this way. they can be treated equally or they can be deemphasized. Short simple sentences carry more emphasis than long involved ones. The sentence could be corrected by changing the words to show how: 16 . Or the two ideas could be kept in one sentence by subordinating one idea to the other.m. Unrelated Ideas Unrelated ideas in a sentence are the most obvious violation of unity. we are conducting two clinics. putting two or more ideas in a sentence is not grammatically wrong. We must assemble at nine o’clock a. our sales manger has a law degree. (3) illogical constructions. in the morning. all the things put together as a sentence should have a good reason for being together. to form one clear thought. Jordan is our sales manger and he has a degree in law. Long sentences deemphasize contents. One can give unity to sentences that contain seemingly unrelated ideas in three basic ways: (a) One can put ideas in separate sentences. At the present time. We are conducting two clinics. He stated that he felt that we were responsible. The sentence has two ideas that do not seem to be related. IV. all of its parts must combine. What one does must not be a matter of chance. but the result of good sound thinking. (b) One can make one of the ideas subordinate to the other. return it back to us.m. not all equally important. Of course. Perhaps the two ideas are related. III. The point is clear: one’s choice of arrangement makes a difference. But if they are not presented equally (for example. We must assemble together at nine o’clock a.As a matter of interest. IV. they get about equal emphasis. But the ideas must have a reason for being together. Giving Unity to the Sentence Good sentences must have unity. I am interested in learning your procedure. but the words do not tell how. I am interested in learning your procedure. Giving Emphasis to the Content Writing clear sentences also involves giving the right emphasis to content. The revisions of the following sentence illustrate the first two of these techniques: Mr. Our new model is longer in length than the old one. in an independent and a dependent clause). Jordan is our sales manger.

For example. began my studies at State University. we permitted her to return the the goods. energy-saving products. machine.Even though our equipment is wearing out. dangling modifiers confuse meaning by modifying the wrong words. our production increased in May. IV. So do unparallel constructions. they are based on the needs for clear communication. but no Operation of the press is simple. I set my goal for a career with a major accounting firm. when I. Knowing that she had objected to the price Because we knew she had objected to the was the reason we permitted her to return price. Operation of the press is simple. If the detail is important. I never knew an executive who was interested I never knew an executive who was interested in helping workers who had got into problems in helping worried workers with their problems. Unrelated Improved Our territory is the southern half of the state Our territory is the southern half of the and our salespeople cannot cover it thoroughly. They are based on custom and logical relationships between words. In general. I entered State University in 1978. Excessive Details Excessive details in one sentence tend to hide the central thought. my goal was a career with a major accounting firm. a small-town girl from a middle-class family. Active and passive voice in the same sentence can violate unity. that caused them to worry. 2. but. My education was completed in 1988 and I completed my education in 1988 and then then I began work as a sales representative I began work as a sales representative for an for an international company. international company. I selected the school because of its widely recognized accounting program.3 Illogical Constructions Illogical constructions destroy sentence unity. Our salespeople cannot cover it thoroughly. it will not work well unless it is maintained. which is widely recognized for its accounting program. From the beginning. Primarily. Excessive detail Improved In 1978. goods. they result from illogical thinking. The first step that should be taken in order to avoid illogical constructions is to use logical thinking. One achieves unity by making both clauses active. The point is that the rules of grammar are useful in writing clear sentences. The sentence unity is destroyed by mixed constructions which do not make a clear and logical thought. pronouns without antecedents and subject-predicate disagreements. IV. like any machine will work well unless it is maintained. 17 . Clear writing requires that one follows the established rules of grammar which are not arbitrary. it is better to put it in a separate sentence. A small-town girl from a middle-class family. We concentrate on energy-saving products and As a result of our concentration on 70 percent of our business is from them. 70 percent of our business comes from them. state. Illogical Construction Improved Job rotation is when you train people Job rotation is a training method by moving them from job to job. involving moving people from job to job.

Most readers prefer to read short paragraphs. Paragraph unity concerns a narrow topic.1 Giving Unity to the Paragraph Like sentences. depends on its contents. When applied to paragraph structure. Another advantage is that it helps one to have a check of paragraph unity. Some subject matter develops best if details are presented first. usually for special effect. on what must be included to achieve unity. paragraphs should be short as they show organization better than long ones.3 Giving Movement to the Paragraph Each good paragraph should move an additional step toward the goal. A third paragraph arrangement places the topic sentence somewhere within. 18 . of course. These paragraphs usually present the supporting details first and from these details. unity means that the paragraph builds around a single topic or idea. V. Some. readability research has suggested an average length of eight lines for longer papers such as reports. serve to introduce ideas. they lead readers to the conclusion. Often. Shorter paragraphs are appropriate for letters. Designing paragraphs involves one’s ability to organize and relate information. paragraphs should have unity. Others develop best when introduced by the summary or concluding statement. Good report writing has movement. But not every paragraph must have a topic sentence. usually as a conclusion.4 Making Good Use of Topic Sentences Topic sentences can help in making good paragraphs. Also. 2 Keeping the Paragraph Short As a general rule. One-line paragraphs are essentially appropriate in business letters as a means of emphasizing a major point. Paragraphs show the reader where topics begin and end. for example. The placement of topic sentences depends on the subject matter and the writer’s plan. one should find it useful. The most common of all paragraph plans begins with the topic sentence and follows with the supporting material. The sentences must move step by step to reach the paragraph goal and the paragraphs move step by step to reach the overall goal. This arrangement is used rarely. How long a paragraph should be.V. The topic sentence expresses the main idea of a paragraph and the remaining sentences build around and support it. thus helping them to organize the information in the mind. Paragraphing Paragraphing is also important to clear communication. Or a one-line paragraph may be all that is needed for a short goodwill closing comment. but the final sentence covers the real essence of the paragraph. The second most common paragraph arrangement places the topic sentence at the end. As this arrangement fits most units of business information. followed by a conclusion or summary statement (the topic sentence). Unity is not always easy to determine as it can vary in breadth. to relate succeeding items or to present an assortment of facts that lead to no conclusion. V. V. V. Using topic sentences forces one to find the central idea of each paragraph. such paragraphs begin with an introductory sentence that may appear to be a topic sentence. paragraphing helps one to make the ideas stand out. Even so. It involves logic and imagination.

V. 19 . Growth and Structure of the English Language.Bibliography: Coşer. 1956. Developing Competence in English. Michael. 2004. Lesikar. Polirom. Vince. Basic Business Communication. 2004. Living English Structure. Otto. London. Editura Irwin. Allen. Jespersen. Bucureşti. Advanced Language Practice. New York. Illinois. Stannard. Longman. Raymond. W. 1959. Vulcănescu. 1988.. Rodica. Cornelia.

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