5Place the Most Important Words (and Ideas) at the Beginning of Each Sentence

We tend to junk up the beginning of our sentences with modifiers and qualifiers, making the reader work harder to discern what, exactly, we are saying. It might sound remedial to say that each sentence should begin with the subject (the actor) and verb (the action), but it's the easiest way to buff up bad writing to make it more appealing.

The first words of every sentence should make a friendly first impression to encourage the reader to keep going—much the way a favorable first impression at a party encourages conversation (as opposed to, say, desperate glances around the room to find some other opportunity).

Here's what I mean.

This is the first sentence of an introductory paragraph of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention style guide: “According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), released in 2006 by the U.S. Department of Education, 30 million adults struggle with basic reading tasks.”1

The primary idea in that sentence is that millions of people are not fully literate; everything else in it is secondary. The primary idea—the important words—should be placed at the beginning. So:

“Thirty million adults struggle with reading, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) report, released in 2006 by the U.S. Department of Education.”

(Ironically, the guide is titled Simply Put, though much of it is not put simply at all.)

Also from Simply Put (ignore, for ...

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