Advanced Business Writing
Clarity and Flow

Bad Delays

Some sentences must be long. But their effectiveness can depend on how easy they are to read, how well they flow.

For this lesson on flow, we need to use a few abbreviations:

S = Subject
V = Verb
O = Object
i = information

People prefer to read sentences in which they can recognize three things in quick succession:

S~V~O

After that, they are relaxed enough to take in some additional information:

S~V~O~i

This can make the sentence long when the information is detailed and extensive, but because it makes S~V~O clear, it's easy to read and the reader won't mind.

Two sources of bad flow are:

 • long subjects

 • interrupting qualifications

Long subjects

Long subjects are typically caused by three things:

(1) nominalization

Our client's ordering of the 3T version of the MRI machines for more than half of their locations surprised everyone in the sales department.

(2) restrictive clause

The client that ordered the 3T version of the MRI machines for more than half of their locations surprised everyone in the sales department.

(3) nonrestrictive clause

Our best client, who ordered the 3T version of the MRI machines for more than half of their locations, surprised everyone in the sales department.

The simplest solution is to move the information to the beginning of the sentence or to the end of the sentence:

i~S-short~V~O:

With an order for the 3T version of the MRI machines for more than half of their locations, the client surprised everyone in the sales department.

S-short~V~O~i:

Our best client surprised everyone in the sales department when they ordered the 3T version of the MRI machines for more than half of their locations.

Interrupting qualifications

We as writers usually have a lot to say, and as we write, our associative minds often deliver up useful information along the way:

S~i~V~O:

Our client, on the day before the end of this sales quarter, surprised everyone in the sales department with their order for MRI machines.

S~V~i~O:

The new client ordered, with a cash down payment of fifty percent, six MRI machines.

S~i~V~i~O:

The sales department, in response to a directive from the Vice President, surveyed, without presenting another sales pitch for the 3T MRI machines, all of our existing customers.

When these interruptions between S~V and V~O are long, the reader must temporarily store them in short-term memory. This mental work can become such a burden that the reader slows down to keep track of things. That is bad flow and a good reason for the reader to lose interest.

Again, the simplest solution is to move the information to the beginning of the sentence or to the end of the sentence:

i~S~V~O:

Just before the end of the quarter, our client surprised everyone in the sales department with their order for MRI machines.

S~V~O~i:

The new client ordered six MRI machines with a cash down payment of fifty percent.

S~V~O~i~i:

The sales department surveyed all of our existing customers at the request of the Vice President, but did so without presenting another sales pitch for the 3T MRI machines.

Note: Not all sentences should be in S~V~O~i format. First of all, it would be boring. More importantly, good sentence-to-sentence flow will require adaptations to this format, as will be seen in later lessons. But S~V~O~i is a good starting point for any sentence.

Lesson: Bad Delays
Module: Clarity and Flow
Course: Advanced Business Writing