How long can you talk for without drawing breath?

I remember reading a book on technical writing which said you should read every report aloud to make sure the text flows, and makes sense. A comma is where you pause, (or have a side comment), and a full stop is where you finish the thought, and take a breath. If you cannot express the sentence in one breath – the sentence is too long and you should rewrite it.

If you have to read a sentence twice or more, consider rewriting it. Also remember the people reading your document may not have English as their first language. “Foreign words” take more brain power and the reader may not be entirely familiar with the word or the context used. I recently heard a conversation

  • “is it right to turn left here?”,
  • “no, right”

which maybe valid English, but it takes a moment to understand it.

Another advantage of reading it aloud is it it helps you to spot duplicated words or missing. (There was a double whoops in that sentence.)

I was reading a description in a technical report which took me several minutes to understand it. It used terms(defining some of them inline <and also had nested comments about the terms >), then using terms like “this” (when “this” could be one of several objects) (I kept thinking which this?, that this, or this this), and so I copied the text into an editor so I could break it into phrases (logical groups of thoughts) and work out what was important. See – it is hard work to understand some sentences.

I am a great believer that reading should be linear, you should not have to keep going back to reread text. I also think that people need signposts to help them through the text, along the lines of the old adage saying for a good presentation “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you have told them”. Instead of one long rambling paragraph it might be clearer to say

There are three areas we need to consider, area1, area2, area3

Area1

Area2

Area3

I have noticed also noticed that people often read the first sentence, and ignore the second part, this is where good signposting can help. This applies to emails and conversations. My wife said to me “We’ll need some of the nice bread with seeds on it, and some rolls, from the bakers, but the bakers isn’t open yet’. So off I went to the bakers to find it closed. I was busy parsing the first part of the sentence, and missed the second part.

I found with some people that if you have two questions send them as two emails not one. They read the first question, reply to it, and do not read the rest of the email.

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