Splitting Long Sentences

Editing_and_proofreading_blog_221Long sentences are bad. They make it harder to read, and increase the chance of misunderstandings. Many of us write long sentences in the first draft. We are focusing on getting the information out of our head rather than making it look good. The theory is that the problems in the first draft don’t matter, because you are then going to revise the piece.

The problem is that it can be hard to revise your own writing. Sometimes you put so much effort into that long sentence that you just can’t see how to do it any other way. Fortunately, there are some signposts for places to make that split.

Co-ordinating conjunctions

Words like and, but, for, nor, or, so, & yet connect:

  • Two independent clauses, each of which can stand alone, with its own subject and verb, or
  • An independent clause and a dependent clause. They often link or contrast two separate ideas or actions. This means they serve as a natural break between the parts of a sentence.

The conjunction signals a good place to split into 2 sentences, for example:

  • You can be perfectly well with HIV, but at other times it’s hard to do even basic things.

Becomes:

  • You can be perfectly well with HIV. At other times it’s hard to do even basic things.

Sometimes you will need to use a transitional word or phrase at the split point:

  • You will be asked to complete an application form and subsequently to attend a training course one evening a week for six weeks.

Becomes:

  • You will be asked to complete an application form. Later, you will attend a training course one evening a week for six weeks.

Which

This word is used to add a non-restrictive element to a sentence. As it is not critical to the sentence’s meaning, you could move it into a new sentence. You may need a demonstrative pronoun to clarifying the connection between the two resultant sentences. Reminding your reader of the subject in the second sentence may also minimize ambiguity.

  • Amnesty also has its own checks which ensure that all its major reports pass through several levels of approval.

Becomes:

  • Amnesty also has its own checks. These ensure that all its major reports pass through several levels of approval.

Participial phrases

Phrases beginning with a verb form ending in “-ing”, functioning as an adjective can be a useful sign.  When these phrases occur at the end of a sentence, they often provide non-essential information. That gives scope for it to stand alone in a separate sentence, often beginning with a pronoun to give the second sentence a clear subject.

  • These are now due to occur in 2016, having been postponed on several occasions over the past few years.
  • These are now due to occur in 2016. They were postponed on several occasions over the past few years

Some sentences need more than one of these strategies. Remember that if the new sentences generated by these techniques are closely related, you may want to demonstrate that link by using a semicolon instead of a full stop to emphasize the link.

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About The Proof Angel

I am a freelance editor and proofreader, working with a wide range of clients from large companies to individuals. I can help you to communicate clearly by carrying out a final check, or by suggesting ideas get your message over. I also have a sideline in textiles, as The Rainbow Angel.
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