How To Write Clearly: Order Of Words

In the first article in the series on How To Write Clearly, I wrote about choosing the right words. In this article, I provide two quick tips on the best order in which to place words.


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Tip 1: Prefer The Active Voice

Make sure the reader knows who did what to whom. You can usually achieve this by writing in the active voice. Writing in the active voice follows this pattern:

  • subject + verb + object

The subject is the person or thing that does the action; the verb is the action; the object is the person or thing on which the action is being done.

For example, The cat [the subject] sits [the verb] on the mat [the object] is in the active voice. Whereas The mat is where the cat sits is in the passive voice.

However, you may sometimes want to place more emphasis on the object of the sentence than the subject. In those situations, you can change the convention and place the subject after the object. For example, The house was built by Jack places more emphasis on the fact that Jack has built the house than Jack built the house.

Tip 2: Place Adverbs Next To The Words They Affect

The word only requires special care. Place only before the word it affects. Consider the differences in meaning in these examples provided in How To Write Clearly by Edwin A Abbott:

  • (1) He only beat three (He did no more than beat, did not kill, three)
  • (2) He beat only three (He beat no more than three)
  • (3) He beat three only (He beat three, and that was all he did)

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Last modified on Saturday, 28 November 2015 07:59
English Language Skills (Troy)

English Language Skills (Troy)

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