By Barbara McNichol
Rambling in your writing often stems from muddy thinking—that is, not having a clear idea of what you want to say. When analyzing a piece of your writing that rambles on, ask, “Exactly what was I trying to say?” Challenge yourself to state its purpose in one simple sentence. Then once you have your intended point in mind, ask:
- Did I put in unnecessary facts on the road to making my point?
- Did I add any phrases that were irrelevant to this point?
- Did I keep in mind what readers might be asking as I make my point?
- Do my sentences lack rhythm that jars like riding a bumpy road?
- Did I take a straight line to make my point or did I take unnecessary detours?
Consider using the following formula* to monitor your writing and keeping sentences from running away on you. Use no more than:
- 5 paragraphs per page
- 10 sentences per paragraph
- 15 words per sentence
- 3 syllables per word
*Recommended in Don’t Let Your Participles Dangle in Public!
How to apply this formula
Step 1: Take one page of your writing, 300-400 words, and count the number of paragraphs. Fewer than 5?
Step 2: In an average paragraph, count the number of sentences you have. Fewer than 10?
Step 3: Choose one paragraph and count the number of words in each sentence. What’s the average? Fewer than 15?
Step 4: Now circle all the words on the page that have 4 syllables or more.
Following these four steps, you now have lots of clues where you can stop the rambling and smooth out the potholes on the road.