Writers, not readers, should do the work that produces clarity.
Vary the length of your sentences and you’re off to a strong start.
Judicious use of such devices as dashes, colons and semicolons can brighten your writing by creating pleasing pacing and rhythm. What you write becomes memorable to your reader when you avoid drudgery and create delight.
Consider the practice of using dashes in a sentence to insert a related thought. It’s often effective, but not when it makes readers feel that they are pushing a boulder up a hill. For example:
“The origins of the practice of so-called objective journalism — regardless of any challenges to that term, given Trump supporters’ condemnation of mainstream media organizations, dating from the start of his campaign for the presidency and continuing through the agonies of the COVID-19 pandemic, a phenomenon that has caused tens of thousands of Americans’ deaths, disrupted the economy and cost millions of citizens their livelihood — spring from the opportunity for greater profit that publishers of formerly partisan newspapers saw in replacing advocacy with a form of neutrality and so-called fairness.”
The noun in that sentence, “origins,” and the verb, “spring,” maintain social distancing; they hide from each other, spanning a stretch from the North Pole to the South.
A reader, slogging through that quagmire, finally to reach the word “spring,” has to stop at the second dash and try to remember what’s doing the springing. It’s the “origins” of objective journalism … way back yonder.
Anything that causes a reader to suffer a mental hiccup risks the loss of that reader. Writers should do their best to write seamlessly — no hiccups, no confusion, no loss.
So, if you want to insert a relevant thought midsentence, keep the distance between dashes short. For example:
“Whether we’ll have a baseball season this year — something that can raise the country’s spirits — depends upon our success in overcoming COVID-19.”
Twin Cities writing coach and Emmy Award winner Gary Gilson has taught journalism at Colorado College. He can be reached at writebetterwithgary.com.