Sentences are the basic foundation of any writing, so getting them right is important. The primary goal is to write concise, crisp sentences that clearly convey your message. This is particularly true in business. Avoid any flowery or creative writing urges you have, and stick to the business at hand.
These tips will help you to get started. The sentences in red are weak and/or incorrect. Aim for the sentences in green.
1. Subject & Verb Proximity
Keep the subjects and verbs within your sentences relatively close together. Don’t place long phrases, clauses, or appositives between the subject and the verb in your sentence. Remember that, in very basic terms, the subject is the “who” or “what” is acting in the sentence, and the verb is the action word or what the subject is doing.
Jim Davidson, the CEO of Enterprise Developments and inventor of the cozant stabilizer, said the next quarter will bring the economy out of its slump.
The CEO of Enterprise Developments and inventor of the cozant stabilizer, Jim Davidson, said that the next quarter will bring the economy out of its slump.
Jim Davidson said that that the next quarter will bring the economy out of its slump. He is the CEO of Enterprise Developments and inventor of the cozant stabilizer.
2. Control Length
There is no specific number of words that makes a perfect sentence. There is no such thing as a perfect sentence for that matter. Still, it is best if you control the length of your sentences to no more than twenty words.
For many writers, producing sentences beyond this number of words creates unwieldy sentences that tend to fall apart. I often call them stringy sentences or wobbly sentences.
Granted, there are writers who can generate amazing sentences that are much longer. Although these sentences are grammatically correct, some readers would still have difficulty comprehending their meaning. Remember our goal is clarity. The readers are our primary concern. We want them to be able to read our articles without undue difficulty.
3. Active Voice
For most of your sentences, use the active voice rather than the passive voice. Sentences in the active voice are easier to comprehend quickly and accurately. They are also shorter than passive sentences.
All of last year’s models were sold by Sarah.
Sarah sold all of last year’s models.
All reports are reviewed and summarized by our director.
Our director reviews and summarizes all reports.
4. Controlling Idea
Write sentences that have only one controlling or main idea. In the following sentence people might assume that the topics are related, but are they? It would be best to clarify. If they are not related, use two sentences. If they are related, use a subordinating word.
Several employees sent texts of complaint about the staff room and there will be a meeting at noon on Monday.
Several employees sent texts of complaint about the staff room. Also, there will be a meeting at noon on Monday. (The word “Also” further indicates separation.)
Because several employees sent texts of complaint about the staff room, there will be a meeting at noon on Monday. (Using a dependent clause clarifies the relationship.)
5. Use Conjunctions
I used a conjunction above to subordinate one clause, making the independent clause have control.
Subordinating and coordinating conjunctions show relationships within sentences. This can help with the logical flow of your wring, making one idea lead smoothly into another.
Subordinating conjunctions are words and phrases that introduce dependent clauses. Some common subordinating conjunctions are the following: because, if, after, although, meanwhile, until, when, where, while, how, though, and before.
In addition to clarifying your meaning, using a subordinating conjunction can make a weak pair of sentences stronger by showing the relationship.
Tom designed a whole new software package. He became the office manager.
Once Tom became the office manager, he designed a whole new software package.
Coordinating conjunctions join items of equal importance – at least grammatically. There are only seven coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. Some people remember them by using the mnemonic FANBOYS.
We would have won the game, but our best player was absent.
The weather began to turn, so we returned to the campsite.
6. Use Parallel Structures
Put similar sentence elements in the same form. Using parallel structure helps with consistency, flow, and comprehension.
Without parallel structures writing can seem disjointed and difficult to understand. Also, you do not want the reader to feel that the author does not have a good grasp of the language.
Lara’s favourite activities are knitting, to go swimming, and rock climbing.
Lara’s favourite activities are knitting, swimming, and rock climbing.
Tamino plans to attend the meeting and answering their questions.
Tamino plans to attend the meeting and answer their questions.
James is responsible for stocking the shelves, all ordering of supplies, writing orders, and sales of the high-end products.
James is responsible for stocking the shelves, ordering supplies, writing orders, and selling the high-end products.
Be tough during the proofreading/editing stage to remove redundant words and phrases as well as outdated or overused expressions. Avoid using slang.
Examples of redundant expressions
Bald-headed = bald
New invention = invention
Completely destroyed = destroyed
Interdependent on each other = interdependent
Also avoid the following.
Firstly, secondly, thirdly…
Good, bad, big … (There are better adjectives)
Awesome, cool, stuff… (Slang or colloquial expressions)
Always / never (Very few events are “always” or “never.”)
In most formal writing avoid overusing contractions, idioms, and colloquial expressions. They have their place in other kinds of writing, but not in formal or business writing.
Remember, these are tips. There are times when rules or conventions are meant to be broken; however, knowing the foundation will help you write more professionally when required.