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.


  • Cut Through the Clutter

    Measure, monitor and manage clarity with a cool (free!) tool

    Would your message be twice as good if it were half as long? The research says yes: The shorter your piece, the more likely readers are to read your message, understand it and make good decisions based on it.

    Cut Through the Clutter - Ann Wylie's clear-writing workshop on April 17-18 in New York

    But most communicators (and, let’s be fair, their reviewers) ignore the research and keep piling on the paragraphs. The result? “You’re not more informed,” writes Tom Rosenstiel, former media critic for the Los Angeles Times. “You’re just numbed.”

    Analyze your message for 27 readability metrics and leave with targets, tips and techniques for improving each one.

    So how long is too long? What’s the right length for your piece? Your paragraphs? Your sentences? Your words?

    At Cut Through the Clutter — our two-day hands-on clear-writing master class on April 17-18 in New York — you’ll run your message through a cool (free!) tool to measure, monitor and manage readability. You'll find out how to:

    • Analyze your message for 27 readability metrics — and leave with quantifiable targets, tips and techniques for improving each one.
    • Increase reading, understanding and sharing with five techniques for cutting your copy significantly.
    • Avoid discombobulating readers. Leave this workshop with 11 metrics for reducing sentence length and increasing comprehension.
    • Stop getting skipped. Find out how long is too long — and leave with three ways to shorten paragraphs.
    • Eliminate multisyllabic pileups from your copy. They’re the No. 1 predictor of poor readability.

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