What’s become of short, declarative sentences?

October 6 - nerds I love undergrad and graduate students. I admire their zeal for life. I'm impressed by their technological prowess. And, naturally, I'm jealous of their youth.

But, I'm appalled by their writing. I often receive e-mails, cover notes, resumes and even term papers from students. Without exception, they suffer from poor grammar, misspelling, run-on sentences and ponderous, passive phrasing.

What's become of the short, declarative sentence? It seems to be following civility to an early grave.

Here's a typical example of some heavy-handed prose from a grad student:

'By showing how gender as a theoretical method is simply one of the many ways available to analyze and interpret the past, Scott is arguing against complacency in the historical profession.'

Ouch. Thirty-one words! Why not write this instead: 'Scott says overlooking gender's role can lead to complacency in historians.' It's short, declarative, only 11 words and makes the same point.

Ernest Hemingway was the master of short, declarative sentences. I think journalism, communications and public relations professors would be well advised to make 'The Old Man and the Sea' mandatory reading.

Copy Hemingway's style and you'll become a better writer. You'll also separate yourself from every other job seeker who uses passive, 31-word-long sentences. And, that, my friends, is a significant competitive advantage.

7 thoughts on “What’s become of short, declarative sentences?

  1. Can you really blame students. At an early age they are taught to add “fluff” to beef up their assignments.

  2. Texting is only partially to blame. Students don’t get a good grounding in elementary or high schools. They then learn to write in academic-speak because that is how their professors write. After two years in academic PR, I now understand this.

  3. Maybe the new generation emerging from college should be dubbed “Texting Nation.” Perhaps that’s where their writing style of rambling, incomprehensible “diarrhea of thoughts” first took root. Meanwhile, I’ll stay in my “clean, well-lighted room.”