Sunday, April 24, 2016

Found Around—Random Writing Tip 6: Let Sentences Be Sentences!

Email tempts us to break language conventions when we shouldn't. Generally, standard sentences are easier to quickly grasp than run-on sentences and comma splices for educated Americans because proper syntax is ingrained in their reading method.

Most people have no problem with these sentence fragments in a business email:

  • Thanks.
  • OK.
  • Done.
  • See you then.
  • Looking forward to it.

These are common expressions we've all grown accustomed to. But these recently received sentences made do a double-take:

  1. Do you teach presentation skills, I have a salesperson who needs to sharpen his openings and closings.
  2. Please call me at my cellphone I'm having trouble getting incoming calls I just want to see if I can get them.
  3. Chris said he'd be there by 9 but got stuck in traffic, if you give him some more time I'm sure he'll get there.

The first example, a comma splice, joins a question (interrogative sentence) and a statement (declarative sentence). A question mark should replace the comma.

The second example joins three complete sentences without appropriate punctuation or transitions. Admittedly, inserting periods after cellphone and calls would result in a collection of choppy sentences. But if the writer kept only the important information, he would have written something like Please call me at my cellphone because I want to check if I can get incoming calls.

The third example is a perfect illustration of not starting with what matters, which I discussed in an earlier post. The problem isn't so much the comma after traffic but not thinking hierarchically. The writer could have simply wrote Please give Chris more time because he'll be in after 9, or, Please give Chris more time because he's stuck in traffic.

Clear writing requires clear thinking; let sentences do their job of being sentences.