Spoiler alert…

woman in blue striped flannel shirt holding a book indoors
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Sometimes, it’s best to lead with your main point .

Be upfront with your reader. Open with the punchline. Put your cards on the table in the very first sentence…

Wait a sec. In the first sentence? Isn’t it better to introduce the topic, explain the context and then gradually move onto the main point?

It depends. If you’re writing an academic essay where there’s a long argument to develop then yes, perhaps that would be the best approach. Are you writing an academic essay?

No…

As I was saying, sometimes you need to give the reader the main facts right from the start.

It might feel a bit strange to do this. Maybe you’re used to putting in a few introductory sentences before you spill the beans.

This can soften the tone of what you’re writing, but that’s not always a good thing. If you’ve got an important announcement to make, you don’t want to bury it under paragraphs of unnecessary waffle. Work out what your key message is and tell your reader right at the beginning.

Right at the beginning? I mean, spoiler alert! Don’t we want to keep the reader guessing so that they read on?

It depends. If you’re writing something where there’s a mystery to solve, then yes. Are you writing a detective novel?

No…

Most of us aren’t writing tense thrillers or ground-breaking scientific theses on a daily basis. We’re writing emails, customer letters, information leaflets, community news articles and so on.

What are you writing?

A council notice about parking restrictions.

Brilliant. Let’s use that as our example.

You could start your notice with some general information about the area and save the key point for later. Here’s what that would look like:

A notice for residents

The Wafflington area was pedestrianised in 1994 and has been a bustling hub of business and activity ever since. We have also seen a sharp increase in vehicles on the high street and surrounding roads. 

As a result of this, Wafflington Town Council have consulted town planning experts who have advised that certain parking restrictions are put in place. They have recommended a two hour limit for parking along the high street and we have agreed to enforce this from 1 June 2019. Thank you for your cooperation.

 

Now let’s try leading with the main point:

New parking restrictions on Wafflington High Street

From 1 June 2019 onwards, there will be a two hour parking limit along Wafflington High Street. 

This new restriction is due to the recent increase in pedestrian and vehicle traffic in and around the area. Wafflington Town Council would like to thank you for your cooperation.

 

Starting with your key message gets the reader’s attention. It shows them that you’re not hiding anything from them. It gets the information straight to them without any fuss. It makes clear from the start exactly what you expect from them.

It may not be a great strategy for your next detective novel, but try it in your next email and see how it works.

 

 

 

I

 

 

Workshop: Cut it short

 

abstract ancient antique area
Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

In our last workshop of 2018, it’s time to try out some short sentences.

Here’s what we’re working with:

Cut it short

The writer has used some quite wordy sentences here. It’s a dense block of text, made up of three long sentences without much light and shade.

By breaking up some of those long sentences, we can bring a bit more rhythm to this piece of writing. We’re aiming for a mixture of short and long sentences.

We could also try rewriting some of the wordier parts altogether. Obviously, we don’t want to lose any of the information the writer has included. This is just about finding shorter ways to say the same things.

Let’s see what difference those tactics make:

Cut it short 2

With a few subtle changes, we’ve brought a sense of rhythm and pace back to the text. It’s easier and more interesting to read, and it no longer looks like a big clump of words on the page.

Short sentences for the win!

Look out for some festive posts on Write for Real People in the next few days. It’s nearly Christmas…

 

Cut it short

person combing person s hair
Photo by Dmitry Zvolskiy on Pexels.com

Short sentences are great.

They’re quick. They’re punchy. They catch your reader’s eye.

Here are three top tips for using them in your writing:

Mix it up

Whatever you’re writing, short sentences can help to break up the text.

Great writers use a mixture of sentence lengths. Next time you’re reading a good article online or in the newspaper, look at the sentences. You’ll usually find a mixture of long, medium and short sentences.

You can use a short sentence after a longer one to underline your point or simply to add rhythm:

We believe that some students have been taking books out of the university library, removing the covers and placing them on a different book to return to the library. This is theft.

After your visit to Wafflington Cathedral we recommend that you cross the Southgate Bridge to Drawnbeck Hill. The view is spectacular.

 

Watch out for the runaway sentence

A ‘run on’ sentence is a sentence that runs on and on and on:

On Saturdays we come in at 8am so that the trampolines are set up in time for the Kids’ Club but on the first Friday of every month we have an evening session for primary school children so on those weeks we can leave the trampolines out overnight so we don’t need to come in until 8.30am.

Wow.

That is a monster sentence. Let’s try and break it up into more manageable chunks:

On most Saturdays we come in at 8am to set up the trampolines in time for the Kids’ Club.

However, on the first Friday of every month we have an evening session for primary school children. On those weeks we can leave the trampolines out overnight so we don’t need to come in until 8.30am.

Much better.

 

Divide and conquer

As a writer, it’s easy to get carried away. You might not be in the habit of writing ‘run on’ sentences, but perhaps you are rather partial to a sentence that (like this one) is somewhat longer than it really needs to be.

Here’s another example of a long sentence:

Although the first set of results might lead us to assume that Agro Fertiliser was the most effective product, the subsequent tests show that the RadiGrow Formula was in fact the standout product overall.

This is a perfectly fine sentence, but we can make it better. Let’s see if we can divide it up a bit.

The first set of results might lead us to assume that Agro Fertiliser was the most effective product.

However, the subsequent tests show that the RadiGrow Formula was in fact the standout product overall.

A very simple tweak gives us two shorter sentences. It’s quicker to read and easier to follow, but still quite formal. If you were writing a report, for example, this would work well.

But what if we wanted the sentences to be even shorter?

Look at the first set of results. Agro Fertiliser seems to be the most effective product.

However, the rest of the tests tell a different story.  It turns out that the RadiGrow Formula was the standout product overall.

With a little more work, we’ve ended up with four even shorter sentences. Very short sentences aren’t going to be appropriate in every context but they’re a great way to catch your reader’s attention and keep them reading.

 

Ready to start cutting down those sentences? Come back on Thursday for sentence trimming practice in the Write for Real People Workshop.