As writers, we can construct a faultless sentence, one that is technically correct in every way, a complete phrase that displays impeccable punctuation and possesses unassailable grammar. Yet, accomplishing this doesn’t guarantee the results will be understandable.
Sometimes we can follow all the rules of sentence construction and fail to communicate. If readers don’t know what we mean, it doesn’t matter if our commas are correct and our tenses are true.
Sometimes it’s wrong to be right.
This doesn’t imply we can disregard the technical aspects of writing. We should strive to follow expected conventions; our readers deserve that. Grammar is important and punctuation is essential, yet both must serve to advance the message, not obscure it.
When we write a sentence that isn’t clear, we must rework it, even if that means sacrificing a bit of technical precision along the way. For example, are we content to have a passive sentence that is completely understandable or will we insist on an active construction even if it’s awkward?
The ideal sentence doesn’t need to be technically correct, but it does need to effectively communicate. If it does both, that’s a bonus.
The perfect sentence is one everyone understands.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.