Clarity (2)

In onze Workshops Legal English Writing Skills staan de Branch Out “7 Cs of Writing” centraal. Deze 7 Cs zijn: Clarity, Correctness, Courtesy, Conciseness, Cohesion, Consistency en Completeness (voor een korte beschrijving: zie hiernaast).

Onder de C van Clarity:  SVOMPT (NB: ook deze keer voorbeelden die wij de laatste tijd in de praktijk zijn tegengekomen).

Last week I made a start on some important elements regarding clarity in writing; KISS (Keep It Short and Simple) was our mantra. This week I would like to introduce a further and important element of clarity which is sentence structure.

Dutch writers of English often make the mistake of applying Dutch word order to their English sentences which, of course, doesn’t always work. So my first tip is to try and remember SVOMPT. Now, this is not really an acronym, but it does sound like a Dutch or German speaker saying ‘swamped’ (I am swamped with work i.e. you have too much work) – no offence meant! SVOMPT stands for:  Subject, Verb, Object, Manner, Place and Time which is generally correct English word order.  For example:

(S=) We (V=) sent (O=) the contract (M=) by courier (P=) to Amsterdam (T=) yesterday.

As is often the case in English, there are some exceptions to this rule – e.g. the time can also go at the very beginning of the sentence – but on the whole, SVOMPT should serve you well. Here are a few other pointers to help you ensure correct sentence structure (and some examples we recently came across):

1. Have the subject as close as possible to the beginning of the sentence.

  • Instead of:            Because he lives in Amsterdam, he is always late for work.
  • Write this:             He is always late for work because he lives in Amsterdam

2. Do not separate the verb and object when possible.

  • Instead of:            In my opinion this is, for foreign companies or clients looking for                                          advice, a good characteristic.
  • Write this:             In my opinion, this is a good characteristic for companies or clients                                      looking for …

3. Do not separate a modal verb (e.g. would, could, can etc.) from its dependent verb(s) whenever possible.

  • Instead of:            This could, for our clients, have consequences.
  • Write this:             This could have consequences for our clients.

4. Linking words and adverbs of opinion are best placed at the beginning of the sentence.

  • Instead of:           The employer may not, nevertheless, store the data for any longer                                     than is necessary.
  • Write this:            Nevertheless, the employer may not store the data for any longer                                       than is necessary.

5. Avoid putting qualifying phrases in the middle of a sentence. Put them either at the end or eliminate.

  • Instead of:           The court, although it limited its holding, held that a bicyclist must                                     adhere to traffic rules.
  • Write this:            The court held that a cyclist must adhere to traffic rules, although it                                   limited its holding.

And while we are at it:

6. Adverbs of frequency (e.g. always, often, never etc.) go before a single verb; except for the verb ‘to be’

  • I take always the train to work                                        I always take the train to work
  • I never am late for a meeting                                           I am never late for a meeting

7. In multi-verb combinations, the adverb goes between  the verbs

  • They have been always a reliable business partner. They have always been …
  • We never will reach a decision.                                         We will never reach …
  • They also have been working on a new structure.      They have also been working …

On a final note, remember that there are always exceptions to the rule; and English seems to have its fair share of these. We will often break the rules of word order and vary word order for reasons of style, focus, rhythm, sound, rhyme, or to express emphasis, catch the reader’s attention or just to be different. But if you are in doubt, SVOMPT (together with last week’s KISS) and the above tips should be a good guideline.

Happy writing!!.