Let It Flow
One of the biggest issues I see in business writing is copy flow. All the information might be there, but the way it’s presented makes it difficult to read or follow. If I had a dollar for every time a client exclaimed, “wow, you made it sound so much better,” I could retire. Here are a few tips to help you avoid flow issues.
Think long and hard before you choose to use parentheses in a sentence, because they can negatively affect the flow of your copy if improperly placed or worded.
Clunky: The Cubs visited the White House (participating in President Obama’s last official event) on Monday.
Better: The Cubs visited the White House on Monday (participating in President Obama’s last official event).
Best: The Cubs visited the White House on Monday, participating in President Obama’s last official event.
If you want to use parentheses, it’s usually best that they end a sentence, like “better” above or this example:
The Chargers seem to be bolting from San Diego (headed north to Los Angeles).
Parentheses are also permissible to “set off” an entire sentence.
Hockey’s All-Star Game will be held in Los Angeles. (Tickets are still available.)
Using Em Dashes
Because parentheses can serve as stop signs for readers, I typically prefer to use em dashes to maintain copy flow. I create them by typing two hyphens and then spacing; you can look up shortcuts for PCs and Macs.
Clunky: I’m reading The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs, a UCSD graduate, holder of the Melbern Glasscock chair in American history at Texas A&M University, and research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, at a particularly interesting time in U.S. history.
Better: I’m reading The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs — a UCSD graduate, holder of the Melbern Glasscock chair in American history at Texas A&M University, and research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution — at a particularly interesting time in U.S. history.
The best overall flow advice I can offer is to re-read everything you write, and if something seems wonky, find another way to say it.
Canned or Original?
Many firms, especially those in financial services, rely on canned newsletters to communicate with their clients. They purchase fully designed issues and merely drop in their company particulars. Is this fooling anyone? Probably not, especially when someone receives the same content from two different sources, as I did recently. Obviously I’m biased, but I prefer newsletters that feature original content.
It Takes Two
Few people have a firm grasp on all the intricacies of the English language, which is why I’m able to make a living as a writer/editor. For instance, many writers misuse the word either, which means one or the other. Thus, it is properly used when there are only two options, e.g., If you live in Chicago and cheer for a local MLB team, you are either a Cubs or White Sox fan. Extra tip: If you’re using the word neither, you will always use nor rather than or.