Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Earn Readers With Well-Crafted Sentences

He was a good chairman who loved his job; he might have been better if he had loved it less.
--from Alex Berenson's The Number

This sentence, about the 1990s-era Securities and Exchange Commissioner Arthur Levitt, is an excellent example of good writing. Three reasons why:

1) Parallelism: Note how He was a good chairman pairs with he might have been better and then note how loved his job pairs with loved it less. These parallel structures add a distinct cadence to the sentence, making it a pleasure to read.

2) Reversal: The reversal is a simple technique where the author states an idea in one form and then restates it in opposing form. The second part of the sentence above is an excellent example of a reversal. This device, if used well, violates readers' expectations and grabs their attention.

3) There are no needless words: Okay, there might be one needless word: we could omit "if" and rephrase the second half of this sentence to he might have been better had he loved it less, but this is a minor improvement. This is a beautiful, forceful and tightly-written sentence.

If you want to attract readers, sculpt a brilliant sentence like this every few paragraphs. They'll come.