It’s all about wordplay


passive-voice-versus-active-voiceI quite like a short sentence. And a phrase by itself. Only for stylistic purposes, you understand. Nevertheless, it’s important to vary sentence length, otherwise your reader goes to sleep.

I prefer the active voice. And don’t let anyone tell you can never start a sentence with ‘and’ or ’but’. You can, but it’s wise not to overdo it.

I enjoy the occasional one sentence paragraph too.

And questions? Well, the odd one here or there is a welcome change from sentences. But too many? They make you tired, don’t they?

I really can’t bear extremely long sentences which contain lots of ideas all of which are cobbled together with conjunctions and you can’t really tell which of them is more important because it just reads like a long list and by the time the reader gets to about this point it gets really hard to keep track of what is going on so they generally just give up.

There’s a syntactical long move too, very popular in some French theory, with sentences full of commas, each with their own qualifying phrase; I’m sure you can think of something you’ve read like this. While this comma-heavy sentence, not to be confused with commatisation of identity groups, might be intended to slow the reader down, as Pierre Bourdieu suggests, it can make for difficult reading, particularly if you aren’t used to it.

Equally difficult is the passive voice. The writer is rendered invisible when passive voice is used. But more importantly, excessive use of the passive is stultifying. It’s often useful to know who is writing, or who has acted. You don’t get that information when you use the passive voice.

What also irks me is the sentence that starts with ‘what’. What is important is to get to the point. What could be wrong with that? (See what I did there. It’s not always true.) It would be so easy to cut out the ‘what’. Instead try – it’s important for a sentence to get to the point. Or better still, I prefer a sentence that gets to the point. A sentence that starts with ‘what’ is irksome’. I always tell people, “I am generally irked by a sentence starting with ‘what’”.

And a bit of humour keeps the reader interested. Even the  occasional illustration can provide a welcome distraction from all that is ‘academic writing’.

However, as with any play, you do have to know when wordplay should come to a .