August 17, 2017

Make messages move faster

Partial sentences make your copy clip along faster

Mrs. Webb, your 3rd-grade teacher, probably counseled you to avoid sentence fragments.

Make messages move faster

Run, writer, run Sentence fragments make your copy clip along faster. Image by Quino Al

Mrs. Webb was wrong. Sentence fragments can help you:

  • Create drama
  • Make a transition
  • Emphasize an important idea
  • Change the pace of your piece
  • Make your copy sound conversational
  • And, of course, make sentences shorter

Write fragments like Paul Harding.

Here’s how it works, in a passage from Paul Harding’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Tinkers:

“He found that bankers paid well to keep their balky heirlooms telling time. He could replace the worn tooth on a strike wheel by hand. Lay the clock facedown. Unscrew the screws; maybe just pull them from the cedar or walnut case, the threads long since turned to wood dust dusted from mantels. Lift off the back of the clock like the lid of a treasure chest. Bring the long-armed jeweler’s lamp closer, to just over your shoulder. Examine the dark brass. See the pinions gummed up with dirt and oil. Look at the blue and green and purple ripples of metal hammered, bent, torched. Poke your finger into the clock; fiddle the escape wheel (every part perfectly named-escape: the end of the machine, the place where the energy leaks out, breaks free, beats time). Stick your nose closer; the metal smells tannic. Read the names etched onto the works: Ezra Bloxham-1794; Geo. E. Tiggs-1832; Thos. Flatchbart-1912. Lift the darkened works from the case. Lower them into ammonia. Lift them out, nose burning, eyes watering, and see them shine and star through your tears. File the teeth. Punch the bushings. Load the springs. Fix the clock. Add your name.”

Used strategically, fragments can make your copy tighter and more interesting.

Period.

  • Cut Through the Clutter

    Is your copy easy to read? According to communication experts, that’s one of the two key questions people ask to determine whether to read a piece — or toss it.

    Fortunately, academics have tested and quantified what makes copy easy to read. Unfortunately, that research virtually never makes it out of the ivory tower and into the hands of writers who could actually apply it.

    Cut Through the Clutter - Ann Wylie's concise writing master class on Aug. 17-18 in San FranciscoAt Cut Through the Clutter — a two-day concise-writing master class on Aug. 17-18 in San Francisco — you’ll learn “the numbers” you need to measurably improve your copy’s readability.

    Specifically, you’ll learn:

    • How long is too long: For your paragraphs? Your sentences? Your words?
    • Three ways to shorten your copy — and which is the most effective way.
    • How to avoid causing your reader to skip your paragraphs.
    • A tool you can use (you already have it, but you might not know it) to quantifiably improve your copy’s readability.
    • A seven-step system for making your copy clearer and more concise.

    Learn more about the Master Class.

    Register for Cut Through the Clutter - Ann Wylie's concise writing master class on Aug. 17-18 in San Francisco


    Browse all upcoming Master Classes.

    Would you like to hold an in-house Cut Through the Clutter workshop? Contact Ann directly.

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