Copyright 2019 by Gary L. Pullman
What we have here is a failure to communicate.
To write an effective sentence—a sentence that communicates exactly what you mean—you should practice the follow these principles:
- Use active voice. (Active voice results from using an active subject and an action verb. Often, the verb is transitive: in other words, it has a direct object.)
- Use the third person. (All nouns, all indefinite pronouns, and all third-person personal pronouns are in the third person.)
- Be concise. (Use only the words that are necessary to communicate your precise meaning.)
- Write with purpose and deliberation, with a specific intention, or aim.
- Start with a kernel sentence. (A kernel sentence is the shortest possible sentence that you can construct about a topic. Often, a kernel sentence consists of only an active subject and an action verb.)
- After writing a kernel sentence about your topic, consider what information you need to add to communicate the exact meaning you have in mind. Also consider what additional information, if any, your reader is likely to need to know about the topic as you are writing about it in this particular sentence.) According to philosopher and rhetorician Kenneth Burke, all communication addresses only one or more of these questions: Who? What? When? Where? How? Why? How many or how much? Knowing this about communication can help you to decide what information is necessary to include in any sentence concerning any topic.
Let's practice this approach.
Suppose you are writing about the topic of sharks' attacks.
Start your sentence with these words. “Sharks” is your subject; “attack” is your action verb:
Ask yourself, WHAT about shark attacks? (What point do you intend to communicate about a shark attack?)
Sharks attack rarely.
What else do you intend to say about shark attacks?
Sharks attack rarely, and these attacks are seldom fatal.
What is your purpose in communicating these facts? What do you intend to communicate? Perhaps you intend to correct a misconception, such as:
Media reports suggest that sharks attack people frequently.
If this is the case, relate your goal (correcting a misconception about shark attacks) to the sentence you have already written (about the rarity and relative non-lethal number of shark attacks):
Media reports suggest that sharks attack people frequently, but sharks attack rarely, and these attacks are seldom fatal.
To emphasize your point, you can add a phrase such as “in reality”:
Media reports suggest that sharks attack people frequently, but, in reality, sharks attack rarely, and these attacks are seldom fatal.
Let's review what intentions motivated you to construct each new, expanded version of this kernel sentence.
You started with a kernel sentence about a specific topic: “Sharks attack.”
You identified the first point you wanted to communicate about the topic of your sentence: “rarely.”
You decided to add a pertinent fact to the sentence: “and these attacks are seldom fatal.”
You identified your purpose in writing these facts, which was to correct a misconception: “Media reports suggest that sharks attack people frequently.”
You related your purpose to the facts that you had already communicated: “Media reports suggest that sharks attack people frequently, but sharks attack rarely, and these attacks are seldom fatal.”
Finally, you used a phrase to emphasize your point: “in reality.”
As a result of this process, using your intent to determine the content of your sentence, you went from the kernel sentence “Sharks attack” to its final, expanded, complete version: “Media reports suggest that sharks attack people frequently, but, in reality, sharks attack rarely, and these attacks are seldom fatal.”
This approach can work for any sentence concerning any topic.