Monday, April 21, 2014

Poor composition

Poor composition almost always confuses readers. Here’s an example of poor composition:

In an article titled “How to De-Crapify Your Home: A Start-to-Finish Guide,” the writer uses these words to introduce four policies for avoiding the accumulation of new clutter after you have de-cluttered your home:
“You may have heard that you should toss it if you haven’t used it in the last year. This is true, but that’s a very reasonable attitude to take with your stuff. If you have a tendency to keep things you don’t need, you need policies a bit more strict and timely than that. Live by these instead: [then he lists his four policies]
When the reader arrives at the end of the first sentence, he assumes that the sentence is a straw man that the writer will immediately refute. So, when the reader sees, “This is true, but that’s a very reasonable attitude,” he becomes confused, because:

The writer has not clearly refuted the straw man;

The pronouns “this” and “that” may refer to the same thing or two different things.

It seems illogical that the clause “that’s a very reasonable attitude” is preceded by the conjunction “but.” Isn’t a reasonable attitude a good thing?

The reader silently asks, “Where is this writer going?”

If you click through to the article, you will see that it would read better if this introduction were entirely deleted.

The Takeaway: As a writer, you may know where you’re going, but your reader does not – unless you tell him. In good composition, you continually tell your reader where you’re going, via such techniques as logical sequence,* clear transitions, parallel construction, and consistent nomenclature. When your composition is good, your readers glide effortlessly through your writing and are surprised and delighted at how quickly they finish reading it.

*For example, from the past to the present (chronological), from left to right, from top to bottom, from the general to the specific, and from the less important to the more important. There are many types of sequences to choose from; just make sure that you stick with the sequence you have chosen (the flashback is an allowable exception to this rule).

See disclaimer.

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