Good writing practices – Get to the point!

When communicating an idea, making a request or expressing an opinion in a professional document your first sentence should clearly outline what it is you want, think or need.

This was perhaps, one of the most important pieces of advice my English literature teacher taught me when I was at secondary school and it is something I pass on to all my students, particularly in Hungary.

My understanding of the Hungarian language, which I admit is extremely limited, is that a longer sentence is a better sentence!

The Hungarian language loves it’s clauses, it piles them on one after another meaning that sentences can become rather complex. When asking a student to summarize a text we are studying in a lesson it is not uncommon for that student to talk for several minutes before I need to politely remind them the definition of the verb summarize‘. The same often happens during writing exercises I give out for homework.

The following quotation from the book  ‘A Country Full of Aliens‘ by Dr Colin Swatridge demonstrates this point eloquently:

”As it turned out, later on, against the background of the Italians’ standpoint having changed and become even more obvious (which occurred over and over again), stood the contradiction that Rome could not do without the support provided by Budapest and Bucharest against Yugoslavia, which was often a mission impossible.”

The text comes from a dissertation on the Treaty of Trianon written by a third-year student his who studied History and English and is a fairly typical response that I encounter with my students. There are seven clauses in the sentence above but the main clause doesn’t come until very near to the end, clause number six, when it should have been used as very beginning.

Rome could not do without the support provided by Budapest and Bucharest against Yugoslavia.’ 

Take a look at this discussion about a speech by British PM David Cameron published in The Guardian. Read the first sentence from each panel member. You can see each writer has expressed themselves concisely in the first sentence of their article.

‘In case anyone was in danger of forgetting, the party conferences have underlined how central the economy is to the political battle.’

It’s natural for a little bit of Hunglish to creep in during a conversation but in professional document it is important to remember to convey your opinion/request/objective with as few words or sentences as possible and always at the very beginning of a paragraph.

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2 thoughts on “Good writing practices – Get to the point!

  1. Pingback: Good writing practices – Developing your ideas | lls // online

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