Good morning, fellow ink-stained wretches.
Here’s a little early Christmas gift for you.
I love periods. They win my vote for the greatest piece of punctuation ever invented. They are the sliced bread of writing.
William Zinsser tells us in On Writing Well that most writers don’t reach the period soon enough. “If you find yourself hopelessly mired in a long sentence,” he writes, “it is probably because you are trying to make the sentence do more than it can reasonably do.”
One of my goals in everything I write is to use only periods. No other punctuation. My readers like it. Your readers may not praise you but they will understand you.
Edit your own work ruthlessly. Look for commas and other pieces of punctuation. These tend to clutter your writing. Banish them from your sentences. Turn dependent clauses into their own sentences.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
The world’s big oil producers, flush and powerful just months ago, said they would cut crude supplies by a record amount but found even that couldn’t stop prices from sliding to their lowest level in four years.
Count the words in that sentence. Hint: There are 37.
It is not a bad sentence. Yet the commas set off a dependent clause that injects a separate thought and adds six more words and another idea for the readers to juggle in their minds.
Here’s a way to solve that:
The world’s big oil producers were flush and powerful just months ago. They said they would cut crude supplies by a record amount. But they found even that couldn’t stop prices from sliding to their lowest level in four years.
Here’s another way to do it:
The world’s big oil producers cut crude supplies but found that didn’t stop a price slide to the lowest in four years.
Now you give it a try. Pick a long sentence from one of your own stories. Be ruthless. Take a knife to it.
Here’s another exercise for you. Take a long sentence from a book, newspaper or magazine. Simplify and shorten it by removing commas.
You can break long sentences into shorter ones as we did in our first example. Or simply take all the clutter out and streamline the sentence as we did in the second example.
Want more clear writing tips? Order An Editor’s Guide to Compelling Writing. Email me for details at email@example.com