How Crafty Word Order can Instantly
Improve Your Writing
I am usually very reticent about offering
writing tips. Unless they are linked to the absolute, inescapable
fundamental principles of good writing, such tips are too often
poorly applied or misapplied.
There is really only a handful of fundamental writing principles.
Before this extraordinary tip can be properly revealed, we need
to review three of them: 1) clarity, 2) conciseness, and 3) density.
Clarity and conciseness are generally well known, density less so.
However, for most writers these are just "weasel words",
i.e. they seem to say something but actually say nothing.
For example, how can you know if your text is truly clear? You
are far from being the best judge. After all, you wrote it so it
should be clear to you, but will it be clear to your readers? Likewise,
how can you know if your text is truly concise? Not by counting
the words. My dictionary defines concise as "short, clear,
and to the point". "Short" is only part of the
definition, so by itself counting words cannot be the whole answer.
it is possible to give these three fundamental writing principles
functional definitions, with almost mathematical rigor, so
you can actually test your text. If it passes the test, you
are well on your way to producing an outstanding document.
If not, you need to do some serious rewriting.
• Clarity. For your text to truly clear, you must:
1. Emphasize what is primary importance
2. De-emphasize what is of secondary importance
3. Eliminate what is of no importance
you are largely conversant with these fundamental principles
of good writing, I am about to reveal this remarkably exceptional
tip. It is so remarkable because in one way or another it affects
and advances clarity, conciseness, and density, which are basic
objectives. It is also remarkable because it is very little
known. Whenever I do a Web search for writing tips, it almost
Here it is: Fully benefit from
the two hotspots in each and every sentence you write.
Hotspots? Yes. You may never have noticed it, but words at the
beginning and at the end of a sentence have stronger emphasis
than those in the middle. Therefore, by putting important information
in these key locations, you aid reader comprehension.
Here's an example to demonstrate how hotspots work. While considering
the following three sentences, bear in mind that hotspots don't
have equal value. In general, the one at the end of a sentence
is somewhat more forceful than the one at the beginning.
A. Astronomers hunting for evidence of life outside of our solar
system announced discovery of a new class of planets yesterday.
B. Yesterday astronomers hunting for evidence of life outside
of our solar system announced discovery of a new class of planets.
C. Astronomers hunting for evidence of life outside of our solar
system yesterday announced discovery of a new class of planets.
I hope you will agree that sentence A says what it has to say.
But sentence B is rather better. And sentence C is best of all.
In A, we see that "yesterday", the time of the announcement,
is in the hotspot at the end of the sentence. However, knowing
when the announcement was made is hardly as important as the
announcement itself. Moving "yesterday" to the hotspot
at the beginning in sentence B somewhat helps, but the time
of the announcement is still very much a detail.
Sentence C puts "yesterday" in the middle, where such
a minor detail belongs. This leaves the hotspots at the beginning
and end free to convey truly key information.
Let's look at another example.
A. The national leaders met to discuss new trade relations between
their two countries in the Royal Palace
B. In the Royal Palace the national leaders met to discuss new
trade relations between their two countries.
C. The national leaders met in the Royal Palace to discuss new
trade relations between their two countries.
Here, the disturbing minor element is the phrase "in the
Royal Palace". Once again we see that moving it from the
end of A to the beginning of B is an improvement. However, putting
it in the middle of C is best of all.
Now try the technique yourself. Consider the following:
"BBX is an agency born with the Swedish Internet in 1996."
In this sentence the date1996 comes at the end. Rewrite it to
put the date in the middle. I think you will agree that so doing
makes the sentence clearer and more powerful.
We must be careful not to take the terms "beginning of
the sentence" and "end of the sentence" too literally.
Sentences often start or finish with a kind of explanatory phrase.
At the beginning the phrase acts to introduce the main clause;
at the end it acts to reinforce the main clause. But it is the
main clause that must always be the focus of our interest.
For example: Having arrived late at the party, Jane immediately
looked for the hostess to apologize. The main clause is "Jane
immediately looked for the hostess to apologize." Likewise:
The current financial difficulties are well under control, said
the company's spokesman. Here the main clause is "The current
financial difficulties are well under control."
Now that you see the power of this extremely important tip,
from now on pay close attention to how you order your words.
If you fully benefit from the two hotspots in each and every
sentence you write, you will see immediate and substantial improvement
in the clarity, conciseness, and density of each and every text
Yaffe is a former reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street
Journal and a marketing communication consultant. He currently teaches
a course in good writing and good speaking in Brussels, Belgium.
His recently published book In the “I” of the Storm: the Simple
Secrets of Writing & Speaking (Almost) like a Professional
is available from Story Publishers in Ghent, Belgium (storypublishers.be)
and Amazon (amazon.com). For further information, contact:
Philip Yaffe, Brussels, Belgium Email: [email protected]