Putting people at the centre of everything you write is critical to the success of your documents and emails. (At least, it is if you want people to actually read what you write.) But what does that mean in practice, when it comes to the words and sentences you write?
Well, it’s simpler than you may think: the secret lies in how you structure your sentences. But beware: if you are inadvertently doing the opposite, you might just be losing your readers along the way.
Watch the video to find out the best way to structure your sentences:
The ‘what’ = the main clause
So, let’s look again at what the video referred to as the ‘what’ of a sentence. In grammar terms, this is called the main (or independent) clause. It’s the part of the sentence that can stand alone and make sense: it could be a complete sentence in itself. In our example, this part was we are sorry to inform you that your order has been delayed.
You can see this bit expresses a complete thought – it doesn’t leave unanswered questions.
But what if you look at the other part of the sentence on its own? Owing to the fact that we have been experiencing severe difficulties with our suppliers, coupled with industrial action by postal staff… Well, that certainly leaves a question. Owing to those things … what? This bit of the sentence can’t stand alone.
By the way, you’ll remember that we called that part the ‘why’. In fact, the part of the sentence that can’t stand on its own might tell you something other than ‘why’ (like ‘how’ or ‘when’).
What comes first
So, let’s put everything into the best order now, with the ‘what’ first:
We are sorry to inform you that your order has been delayed because we have been experiencing severe difficulties with our suppliers, coupled with industrial action by postal staff.
Better, isn’t it? OK, it still may not be good news for the person reading it, but at least their life isn’t made even harder because the sentence is difficult to read.
Putting the ‘what’ first is a great way of making life easier for your reader. They’ll be better able to absorb your meaning if your sentences are logically structured. And, of course, making life easier for your reader is one of the best ways to make sure that what you write is read, understood and acted upon.
This post is an extract from a lesson in our online-learning programme, Emphasis 360, which is designed to transform your writing step by step, in practical, bite-sized lessons. You can try it out for free here.
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