Avoid long introductory clauses, or lose readers

You want to give your readers all the information they need to understand your message. This sometimes prompts you to write long introductory clauses. Please stop. Or, at least rein in your impulse.

Those long introductory clauses often make it hard for readers to grasp your main point. I like how Harold Evans, author of Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters, explains the challenge posed by these long introductory clauses:

It is akin to someone rushing into a building saying he’s sorry to interrupt the meeting, but it’s important that, for a number of reasons too complicated to explain at this moment, everyone there should be good enough to pack up their stuff and leave in haste because the building is on fire.

Wow! Clearly the speaker should have said, “Fire! Get out now!” You should do something similar with long-winded sentences that delay getting to the point.

To read examples of too-long introductory clauses, see Evans’ Chapter 3, “The Sentence Clinic.” Evans analyzes the sentences. He also rewrites them to be understandable. Some of his solutions include:

  • Using active voice
  • Being more specific, especially with unclear pronouns
  • Changing negatives to positives
  • Cutting the number of dashes, parentheses, and similar marks
  • Cutting misplaced modifiers

In some cases, Evans turns one long sentence into multiples sentences.  In most cases, he shortens the sentences. More importantly, his rewrites direct the reader better than the originals. As he says, “We are more likely to understand the argument if we know where we are heading.”

Let’s head your sentences in the right direction. Kill those overly long introductory clauses!

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