Cut Out The Complex Sentences!
By Kathy Wilson – ETMG Writer/Editor
Wake-up call to marketing writers—don’t try to pack too much into each and every sentence. Don’t wear your readers out with run-on sentences and em dash asides. Your message is what’s important, so do everything you can to get your key points across in a way that busy, multitasking people can read and retain.
Simpler is almost always better, but that doesn’t mean “dumbed down”.
Many writers seem to have forgotten the power of the period.
Some writers try to say it all in sentences that run on and on, leading with a main point, and then adding an aside or two separated by em dashes, and even more words describing the benefit of the feature, service, or technology being discussed. In most of these instances, a simple period (or more) would make all the difference in terms of comprehension and readability.
Here are a few recent examples:
“Enterprise users today are mobile and demand simple, secure connections so that they may be effective and productive for their employers with access to networked or cloud-based applications 24/7/365 from anywhere in the world via smartphones, tablets, or similar mobile devices, or via their Wi-Fi or third- or fourth-generation (3G/4G)-enabled laptops, whether personal or company issues.” (Say what???)
Wouldn’t this work a lot better?
“Enterprise users today are mobile and demand simple, secure connectivity. In order to be effective and productive for their employers, they need access to networked or cloud-based applications 24/7/365 from anywhere in the world. And they need to be able to connect via their smartphones, tablets, or Wi-Fi and third- or fourth-generation (3G/4G)-enabled laptops, whether these are personal or company issued.”
Just the simple act of breaking this into shorter sentences has made it much easier to read and digest.
And then there is the overused em dash, too often used to mask the fact that multiple thoughts are being crammed into a single sentence:
“While these issues are important—and must be addressed by today’s enterprise, the need for businesses to retain product choice and flexibility today and in the future—while leveraging existing investments to limit costs, decrease operating expenditures, and increase usability in the face of technology changes and an expanding user base—remains critical.”
Here’s the rewritten/simplified version:
“While these issues are important and enterprises need to address them, retaining product choice and flexibility is just as critical. Today’s growing business needs to be able to leverage its existing investments to limit costs, decrease operating expenditures, and increase usability—while at the same time transitioning to newer technologies and an expanding user base.”
A good rule to follow is this: Don’t try to say too much in a single sentence ―or paragraph.
Readers will be better able to relate to your material if you keep things simple, which is especially important the more complex or technical your content happens to be. Shorter, simpler sentences will help you reach the widest possible audience with the greatest level of success.
For further reading:
Clear Writing: Ten Principles of Clear Statement, “Trim the fat from your writing. Fuzzy words, along with unnecessary ones, make your writing difficult to read and understand.” http://extension.missouri.edu/p/CM201
The Key to Shorter Communication: Shorter Memos. CIO Magazine. “When it comes to business writing, shorter is better.” http://www.cio.com/article/176650/The_Key_to_Better_Communication_Shorter_Memos
Tips, Tricks, and Rewards of Writing Short by Maura Casey. “When writing, shorter is better.” http://www.poynter.org/uncategorized/92355/tricks-tips-rewards-of-writing-short/
Writing Online: Best Practices, Keep it Short! http://groundwire.org/resources/articles/writing-online-best-practices