Writing is quite different from speaking. When we speak, we might say that whole sentence together, with a pause in between. Our expressions and pauses  help the person we are talking to understand our meaning. Not so in writing. We have to be concise and clear in what we write.

Continuing the Clear and Simple Writing Series from my last post on short sentences, here’s another tip to keep sentence length brief.

One sentence, one idea.

 We may use several sentences to convey an idea, but never attempt to convey more than one idea in a sentence.

Let me give you an example to illustrate this:

 Never seek a fight if it comes to you, yield, step back, it is far better to step back than to overstep yourself

Ask yourself:

  • Does this sentence contain only one idea? (Three, is what I think)
  • Can each idea stand by itself as a complete sentence?

Let’s try that again:

Never seek a fight. If it comes to you, yield, step back. It is far better to step back than to overstep yourself.

Better, don’t you think?

‘One idea, one sentence’ makes your sentences more powerful.

idea

idea (Photo credit: Tony Dowler)

Why don’t you try this sentence?

If you make a point, do not cling to it, if you win be gracious, the greatest martial arts are the gentlest, they allow an attacker the opportunity to fall down. 

Does it have only one idea?

Let me see your rewrite in the comments.

Remember: one sentence, one idea.

PS: Examples have been taken from John Heider’s transalation of Tao of Leadership