Jobs become boring when the daily routine is repetitive, and so does writing when you read short, choppy sentences with the same structure and length. But everyday business writing doesn’t need to read like a children’s book.
The simplest sentence structure is tolerable in a children’s story, but in professional communication? Here’s what one executive wrote: We’re making progress. But we’re not where we want to be. I want us to be the best. We have a smart strategy. We’re meeting out immediate goals. But we’re not achieving our big goal. A clear, direct, and simplified sentence is the centerpiece of the English language, but breaking the pattern occasionally can make your writing more graceful, easier to move through, and more effective.
Vary the structure
Original: The gentleman called me Friday, and I had to cut the conversation short, so I said I would call him back.
Revised: When the gentleman called me Friday, I had to cut the conversation short, so I said I would call him back.
There is nothing wrong with three consecutive clauses joined by and and so, but you can add variety by recasting the sentence so that you make one of those clauses an introductory element at the start.
Here is a quote from publisher Malcom Forbes. Notice the variety:
Somebody has said that words are like inflated money: the more of them that you use, the less each one of them is worth. Right on. Go through your entire letter just as many times as it takes. Search out and annihilate all unnecessary words and sentences. Even entire paragraphs.
After a 24-word opening sentence, he follows with a two-word expression. Then he stretches out with a longer sentence and ends with a three-word fragment. The contrast provides a pleasant quality to the reading. Short incomplete thoughts (fragments) are acceptable when they help to create a natural, conversational tone, even in business communication.
Add emphasis to your writing
Before: We need to have a strong proposal because there is so much at stake.
After: Because there is so much at stake, we need to have a strong proposal.
Although nothing is wrong with the first sentence, if you read it aloud, it has a monotone. By moving the clause We need to have a strong proposal to the end, you add emphasis in two places. You can hear in your voice a little added stress as it rises at the start of the sentence, and then your voice declines, with strong emphasis on the most important information, We need to have a strong proposal.
Here is another , this one from a story about former pro basketball player Bill Laimbeer of the Detroit Pistons, who some people called the dirtiest player in the NBA:
Laimbeer’s game was not pretty, just effective. He bumped and elbowed and shoved and sweated. Around the league, they said he was dirty, but in Michigan, we knew he only did what everyone else did. He just got caught more. His teammates called him “Lambs”; his opponents called him nothing so endearing. Outside of Michigan, he was portrayed as one-dimensional: a lug, a thug, a cheat, and a whiner.
As you read the second sentence aloud, you hear rhythm in bumped and elbowed and shoved and sweated and the same effect is heard at the end of the paragraph: a lug, a thug, a cheat, and a whiner. The writer would not have achieved the same effect if he had written, Opposing fans called him a lug and a thug. Others called him a cheat, and even a whiner.
When you want to draw attention to particular words, you add emphasis in short segments, as in, He just got caught more. You also add variety when you follow one or two longer sentences with a short one.
The addition of variety and emphasis will make your writing more fluid, enabling readers to breeze through the story. It doesn’t matter that they might not recognize your techniques; they enjoyed the ride.