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News & views

Bite the bullet and split long sentences

[18 Feb 2012] Persuading officials to split long sentences remains a feature of the writing-skills courses we offer. This 59-word sentence comes from a hospital trust’s response to a complaint letter:

‘Reference is made to our recent telephone discussion regarding your father’s consent to contact the ambulance service and the matters or clarification you sought regarding why it was not possible to X-ray your father in his wheelchair and as regards the appointment for 13 November 2011, referred to in the Trust’s response, but about which you had no knowledge.’

By packing so many ideas into a single sentence, the author makes readers work hard for the meaning. It would be better to split it into a three-part bullet list:

‘I recently spoke to you on the phone about:

  • your father giving his consent to our contacting the ambulance service
  • the information you wanted about why your father could not be x-rayed in his wheelchair, and
  • the appointment for 13 November 2011, which we mentioned in our reply but which you did not know about.’

Though this is only a few words shorter, it seems much easier for readers to scan and assimilate. [MC]

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