To Write a Good Sentence, Write a Bad Sentence First

Edits of Gettysburg Address

This is a mini-post!

When I’m struggling to wrangle a sentence, I often use a little trick.

I don’t aim for good, customer-facing copy. Instead, I write out what I need to say without worrying about how to say it.

Example:

I get this request: “Please let readers know: If they select “Alert” in the menu, then the button will blink to alert them whenever their web page is over 60KB.”

And please do it in about 50 characters.

First, I try to write a good sentence, which usually works.

But when I run into trouble, I give up that tactic and instead just say everything that needs to be said. It’s usually something like this:

Click “Alert” to make the button blink to let you know that your web page is over 60KB.

This isn’t anything like what I’d want a reader to see. Aside from being too long, it’s pretty bad writing. (It takes willpower for me not to edit it.)

But now I have something to work with that includes everything I need to say. I can take an element out as long as I replace it with something shorter that gives the same information.

For me, it’s much easier to edit a sentence down than it is to create a good one from scratch.

Want to see the final sentence after I’ve edited it? Yeah, me too, but I’m out of time! (Not really, but I didn’t create a finished example.)

Any tricks of the trade you can share? Let me know!

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2 Responses to “To Write a Good Sentence, Write a Bad Sentence First”

  1. Margo
    June 17, 2010 at 9:14 am #

    Interesting point! I always say it’s easier to edit then to write. Good advice that it’s a good idea for my own work too. I don’t write for living, but I surely write in my living.:)

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