Occasionally using an introductory clause or phrase adds variety to sentence structure, but keep the opening elements short.

The goal of a writer should be to create clear, graceful prose that a reader can easily absorb and process. One way to achieve that is through variety, so that you avoid a series of consecutive sentences that have the same structure. Some people write sentence after sentence with a subject and verb in the first four words, and it leads to a boring, monotonous pattern.

But varying the beginning doesn’t mean writing this: If she wants to motivate her staff, provide skill development opportunities that they will take advantage of and use, and support the adoption and maintenance of new habits, she needs a different approach. Limit most introductory clauses and phrases to about a dozen words or fewer, and save the reader from wheezing when she finally reaches the comma.

In the sentence above, from If to habits is a 28-word introductory clause, and opening elements such as that never contain the subject and verb of the sentence, which form the core of the main idea. Those key pieces are always in the main clause, which in the above example is She needs a different approach. You must know the subject and verb of any sentence to understand what is happening, so the brain is eager to locate those items. As it begins reading the sentence above, it knows intuitively that any element starting with If will not contain the main thought, so it hurriedly moves ahead searching for the subject and verb. By the time it discovers she needs, it has forgotten what it read as it raced through the opening.

Don’t write sentences that force readers to go backward and reread information they can’t recall; it taxes their patience.