Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Placement of modifiers (2)

Clear writing requires correct placement of all modifiers. A modifier is correctly placed when it is where the reader would expect to see it.

On the Search Engine Optimization page of the Weblink International web site, we see this sentence:

When optimizing, a web site text is to be written to include prominent keyword phrases for title tags, description tags, keyword tags, alt attribute tags on images, headings and much more.” (Boldface added.)

The reader gathers that “When optimizing” does not modify “a web site text.” Web site text does not optimize itself. But what does “When optimizing” modify? The reader looks at every word in the sentence and sees no logical choice.

Then he realizes what happened. The word being modified does not appear in the sentence at all. It is the word you. It is implied – vaguely implied – in “is to be written to include.”

The writer’s meaning is:

When optimizing, you should include ...

This is clear writing because, when a sentence begins with a modifying word or phrase, the reader expects the next word or phrase to be the word or phrase modified. (Recall Robert Browning’s famous line, “Smiling the boy fell dead.”)

However, the writer could also (more naturally) write:

When optimizing, include ...

It would still be clear writing because, when the reader arrives at the verb include and recognizes the imperative mood, he mentally supplies the pronoun you.

The Takeaway: Always try to place a modifier as close as possible to the word (or phrase) that is being modified. If the word (or phrase) that is being modified is not stated but only implied, try to place the modifier as close as possible to the place where the word is implied.

Placement of modifiers (1)

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