Shaping Your Prose

Clarity in Complexity: which sentence is most effective manager?

An understanding of the conditions that have resulted in conflicts in Southern Europe today means we must consider a variety of social, economic, and cultural factors rooted in 1000 years of European history rather than just a single force such as ethnicity or religion.
We wish to understand the conditions that have resulted in conflicts in Southern Europe today. To do so, we must not consider just a single force such as ethnicity or religion. We must consider a variety of social, economic, and cultural factors. These factors are rooted in 1000 years of European history.
To understand the conditions that have created ethnic conflicts in Southern Europe today, we must consider not just a single force such as ethnicity or religion, but a variety of social, economic, and cultural factors that are rooted in 1000 years of European history.

Diagnosing Sprawl and Revising It

This: If you feel you are running out of breath before you can pause to integrate its parts, you have identified a sentence that your readers are likely to wish you had revised.

Or This: As you read a long sentence, you may feel you are running out of breath before you can pause to integrate its parts. If so, you have identified one that your readers are likely to wish you had revised.
  

Four characteristics you should strive for:

  1. Get the reader to verb quickly in the main clause.
  2. After that verb, avoid a string of subordinate clauses or phrases, unless obey rules (3) and (4) below.
  3. Coordinate phrases and clauses after the subject.
  4. Add subordinate phrases by means of three modifying constructions that we call resumptive, summative, and free.

1. Getting the reader to verbs quickly

- managing introductory phrases (keep them short)

Although Dr. Jones may have served as a medical consultant for ABCO, Inc., to help it develop medical policies in regard to coverage of employees engaged in high risk activities, she may not be compelled to testify in trials involving malpractice if she was paid only as a consultant and not as a full-time company employee.

Dr. Jones served as a medical consultant to help the company develop medical policies in regard to coverage of employees engaged in high risk activities. But she may not be compelled to testify in trials involving...

- strongly linking subject and verb

   MG =  musical group specializing in early music [that] 
        insists on using either instruments that are 
	actually old or instruments that have been
	created according to historical standards
   MD =  markedly different from that of groups 
	playing early music on modern instruments
 -Long subject:   
   A MG produces a sound MD.  
 -Subordinate clause:   
   When a MG [omit that], they produce a sound MD. 
 -Independent clause/sentence: 
   Some MG.  The sound they produce is MD.	

2. Reducing strings of subordinate clauses

Of the areas of science that are important not just to the future of knowledge but to life on this planet, few are more promising than genetic engineering, which is a new way of manipulating the elemental structures and units of life itself, which are the genes and chromosomes that direct our cells how to reproduce and become the parts that constitute our bodies.

The default solution is breaking such a sentence into smaller ones, but there are other solutions. One is to reduce some of the relative clauses by deleting who/that +is/was, etc.

Of all the areas of science [...] important not just to the future of knowledge but to life on this planet, few are more promising than genetic engineering, [...] a new way of manipulating the elemental structures and units of life itself, [...] the genes and chromosomes...

3. Coordination is the architecte of a well-shaped sentence.

- Avoid coordination, shown by [...], inside the subject phrase.

An academic culture that [encourages research into arcane and abstract topics] but [feels no responsibility for explaining to the public why such projects are valuable to society] risks alienating its ultimate source of support.

When an academic culture encourages research into arcane and abstract topics but feels no responsibility for explaining to the public why such projects are valuable to society, it risks alienating its ultimate source of support.

- Coordinate grammatically parallel elements.

The committee recommends
revising the curriculum to recognize trends in local employment and that the division be reorganized to reflect the new curriculum.

The committee recommends
that the curriculum be revised to recognize ... that the division be reorganized to reflect ...

But you can get away with murder and not bother the reader

The proposal appears to have been written
   quickly,
   carefully and
   with the help of X.

But there are limits. Readers respond best when coordinating elements balance not only grammar but also thought.

Many voters believe that elected officials are abusing their privileges, are calling for term limits, and in that way get rid of them.
Many voters believe so strongly that elected officials ae abusing their privileges that they are calling for term limits in order to get rid of them.

- Keeping connections clear.

Starting from ...
Teachers should remember that students are vulnerable, insecure, and uncertain about those everyday, ego-bruising moments that adults ignore, and they do not understand that one day they will become as confident and as secure as the adults that bruise them.

Try ...
Teachers should remember that students are vulnerable to ego-bruising moments that adults ignore and that they do not understand that one day...

Or ...
Teachers should try to remember that students are vulnerable to ego-bruising moments that adults ignore, to remember that they do not understand that...

Or ...
Teachers should remember not only that students are vulnerable, insecure, and uncertain about those everyday, ego-bruising moment that adults ignore, but also that they do not understand ....

4. Resumption, summative and free modifiers

- Resumptive modifier can extend length of sentence without sprawling.

These three terms are probably unfamiliar. But since mature writers often use those patterns to extend a sentence, we need a word to name what they do but I am not going to do in the sentence that your are now reading that I could have ended seven words ago but that I extended to show you how a sentence sprawls without them.

These three terms are probably unfamiliar. But since mature writers often use those patterns to extend a sentence, we need a word to name what they do and I am about to do in the sentence that your are now reading, [...] a sentence that I could have ended seven words ago, but that I extended to show you how resumptive modifiers work.

Note:	
  (1) comma at third line to give reader a breathe
  (2) repeat of important word `sentence'
  (3) relative clause starting with `a sentence.'

Pause and repeated words seem almost as if starting sentence over.

It was American writers who found a voice that was both true and lyrical,
   True to the rhythms of the working man's speech and
   lyrical in its celebration of his labor.

- Summative modifier are word that sums up what has gone before.

Scheme is the following: 
   (i) end sentence segment with comma,
  (ii) find noun that sums up the substance 
          of the preceding. 
 (iii) continue with a relative clause.

Economic changes have reduced Russian population growth to almost zero, a demographic event that will have serious social implications.

- Free modifier, altho like two before, specifically modify subject of verb.

Free modifiers resemble resumptive and summative modifiers, letting you extend the line of a sentence while avoiding a train of ungainly phrases and clauses.

Socrates questioned the foundations of political behavior,
   forcing Athenians to examine duty they owed the state,
   encouraging youth to question the authority of their elders,
   claiming all the while that he wanted only to puzzle out the truth.

Don't also need -ing form of verb.

Leonardo da Vinci was a man of powerful intellect,
   driven by an insatiable curiosity and
   haunted by a vision of artistic perfection.