Commence with a conjunction, break it with bullets, more
I know, I know. Your third-grade teacher, Mrs. Webb, told you never to start a sentence with a conjunction.News flash: These days, Mrs. Webb is probably never going to read your copy.
So go ahead: Move those linking words — “and,” “or,” “also,” “but,” “so,” “then” and “plus” — to the fronts of your sentences.
When you start with a conjunction, you break long sentences into short ones and move your copy along more briskly.
Here are 3 other ways to write short sentences:
1. Search and destroy conjunctions.
Sentences too long? Use Microsoft Word’s Find function to search for conjunctions.
When one of my writing coachees tried this trick, she found 23 “ands” in a 500-word article.
When you find them, see whether you can replace them with a period. Or, instead of replacing them, commence with a conjunction.
2. Break it with bullets.
If you have a series of three or more items, break them out of the sentence into a bulleted or numbered list. Readers perceive bullets as each being separate sentences and paragraphs.
This is especially important online, where readers skim even more than they do in print. In one test, usability expert Jakob Nielsen made a web page 47% more usable by breaking copy up and lifting ideas off the page.
3. Don’t fix fragments.
Mrs. Webb, your 3rd-grade teacher, probably also counseled you to avoid sentence fragments.
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:
Used strategically, fragments can make your copy tighter and more interesting.