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What’s the most common writing mistake?

by on 12 Mar, 2011

What do most people get wrong, most often, when they write?

I’d say it’s sentence length. Most people try to pack far too much into their sentences.

They’re aiming for flow. But what they get is a bottleneck as readers get bogged down trying to follow too many ideas.

They ignore a simple rule that I pass on to everyone I train to write:

one sentence = one idea.

Look at this sentence:

Our hotel was special because it was formerly Tito’s summer palace and is a concrete-clad, post-war time capsule where Don Draper would be at home in the black marble cocktail bar.

It is hard to follow because it contains three distinct ideas. Break them up into their own sentences and it’s much easier to follow. And much more effective.

Our hotel was special. It was once Tito’s summer palace and is a concrete-clad, post-war time capsule.  Even Don Draper would be at home in the black marble cocktail bar.

Now we’ve got three ideas in three sentences of varying lengths. Much better.

Variety is the key. Don’t fear the short sentence. And if you’re expounding on one idea, you can even give it some length.  (It’s not long sntences per se that are bad, but how they are used). Just mix and match.

What’s your most common writing mistake?

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