One or Two Thoughts Per Sentence, Please
- On April 18, 2017
The actress Allison Janney, interviewed in The New Yorker about her role in “Six Degrees of Separation,” grimaced as she cited a quote from the play. About the offending wording, she said, “A sentence like that is so hard to understand.”
I often wince when I read sentences encumbered with too many thoughts. Here’s one from a press release about a Girl Scouts initiative that made my head hurt.
Digital Cookies will provide Girl Scouts with a foundation in technology that will help girls learn 21st century skills that dovetail with traditional door-to-door and booth sales to combine customer relationship and interpersonal skills with website customization and e-commerce training.
I had to read that sentence too many times to get its gist—the Digital Cookies initiative will give Girl Scouts valuable tech training to complement what they already know about working with customers.
Then I turned it into two:
The Digital Cookies initiative will give Girl Scouts valuable training in e-commerce and website customization. This foundation in technology is a terrific complement to the interpersonal and customer relationship skills the Scouts develop through door-to-door and booth selling.
Short—or shorter—sentences are a good way to control your writing so your audience can grasp what you’re saying after a single read-through. If your readers can’t do that, they’re going to bolt.
The quote that stumped Ms. Janney was from the painter Wassily Kandinsky: “It is clear that the choice of object that is one of the elements in the harmony of form must be decided only by a corresponding vibration in the human soul.”