Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Minor Changes Can Make Perfect Sentences

Sometimes it takes only a tiny change to make a sentence really sing:

Only in America do we buy hot dogs in packages of ten and buns in packages of eight.

This sentence reads extremely well, with excellent cadence, irony and humor. Now, compare this to a version reworded with more direct phrasing:

In America we buy hot dogs in packages of ten and buns in packages of eight.

You can summarize this sentence in one word: Zzzzzzz. There's no cadence, no turn of phrase, there's nothing remarkable at all. It's not even funny.

Here's another example:

Nowhere in Britain has bureaucratic centralization proceeded with more pace than in Scotland.

Compare this sentence to:

Bureaucratic centralization has proceeded with more pace in Scotland than anywhere else in Britain.

Once again, the direct version of the sentence is... just... boring. It has no flair, no cadence, no nothing.

It's difficult to believe that a minuscule change can mean the difference between readable and unreadable writing. And yet this is a basic reality of the writer's world. If you can change even a small fraction of your boring sentences to read like the first versions of these two examples, you will find an audience for your writing.

This post owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the immensely useful resource Effective Writing by Bruce Ross-Larson