by Barbara McNichol
When polishing your sentences, pay attention to the nuances of word order. Yes, it matters!
As someone who has edited more than 350 nonfiction books, to my eye (and ear), placing “short” before “long” works best. This applies to both sentences and lists.
Here’s a simple example from a recent book I edited:
“He was well respected and loved in the academic community.”
I changed it to:
“He was loved and well respected in the academic community.”
Because “loved” is 5 letters and “well respected” is 13, it makes for a smoother read if the longer phrase follows the shorter word. See if you agree.
“Good leaders don’t waste time, effort, financial resources, or opportunities.”
“Good leaders don’t waste time, effort, opportunities, or financial resources.” This shift creates a tidy parade of words from short to long.
Word Order in Lists
In addition, a list is visually easier to follow when the line length goes from short to long. This example is from a leadership newsletter:
It would be counterproductive if you:
- Take the time to plan your day, but you don’t follow the plan.
- Hire people to do a job but don’t take time training them to do that job.
- Have slow-moving products in your inventory that generate low margins.
- Conduct an employee engagement survey and do nothing with the results.
- Attend a trade show to network with customers but spend your time on the phone.
To get a feel for how adjectives line up best in a sentence, this blog post summarizes it beautifully: http://barbaramcnichol.com/2017/11/02/order-place-adjectives-sentence-explained/
For even more tips, go to http://barbaramcnichol.com/2016/03/06/5-writing-tips-to-improve-your-readability/
Key message: Better writing means paying attention to the best use of word order!