Sunday, June 13, 2010

Vary the Ending Clauses in Your Sentences

Which of these sentences is the best?

1) The best time of day to write, if you want to maximize your productivity, is the early morning.

2) The early morning is the best time of day to write if you want to maximize your productivity.

3) If you want to maximize your productivity, the early morning is the best time of day to write.

It depends. What part of the sentence do you want to emphasize?

Are you writing to an audience of personal productivity experts? Then #2 is likely the best choice. Putting the clause "if you want to maximize your productivity" at the end of the sentence emphasizes that clause. It will likely resonate with that audience and better capture their attention.

What if you're writing to a bunch of late-night writers and you want to get their attention by using some mild confrontation? Then I would choose #1. By ending the sentence with "morning" emphasize something controversial, and your audience will sit up in their chairs and want to hear you make your case.

What about #3? You could also argue that it also emphasizes the "maximize your productivity" even though that clause appears first in the sentence rather than last. If you were speaking, rather than writing, to a group of personal productivity experts, I would suggest sentence #3. By putting the clause first, and then briefly pausing in your speech at the comma, you will draw extra attention to that clause and likely draw your audience in still further.

These three sentences have essentially the same information content, but of course writing isn't only about conveying information. It's also about choosing which words and phrases to emphasize and which to play down.

It's both a blessing and a bit of a curse that the English language gives you a so much flexibility with sentence structure and the ordering of clauses. It's a curse because it gives you many more choices to make when you are can writing and editing text. But it's a blessing because this technique of ordering clauses can add subtlety and force to your writing.