300 Days of Better Writing

November 21, 2013

Don’t place a comma between the subject and predicate, part 1.

Every complete sentence has a subject and predicate. We have used the term subject many times, but you may not be familiar with the term predicate. Basically, the predicate is the main verb in the sentence and everything that modifies or extends it. Consider this sentence.

“The man with the broken nose stumbled on the broken flagstone.”

The simple subject is “man,” and the entire subject of the sentence is “The man with the broken nose.” The main verb is “stumbled,” and the predicate is “stumbled on the broken flagstone.”

According to this tip, you should not place a comma between the subject and predicate. While this seems pretty obvious with the simple sentence above, I see many clients put a comma there when the subject is complicated. Consider this sentence.

“When the following morning finally arrived, the president of the bank that collapsed when the stock market tumbled was found dead.”

Here, the subject ends with “stock market tumbled,” and the predicate is “was found dead.” Due to the complexity of the subject, with its multiple phrases and clauses, some writers will put a comma after “tumbled.” Regardless of the sentence’s complexity, however, no comma is needed there.

This is the strategy for day 210 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats.

For a sample of 300 Days of Better Writing and other books by Precise Edit, download the free ebook.


May 2, 2013

Use topic chains to create cohesive paragraphs.

If you write a long paragraph (more than 4 or 5 sentences), how do you keep focused on the topic? How do you keep the reader aware of the main idea being discussed?

You do this with topic chains. A topic chain is basically a series of words and phrases that refer to the main idea. In most cases when you use a topic chain, each sentence will have one or more words that refer to the idea. If this is not possible with a particular sentence, you may need to consider whether or not that sentence belongs in the paragraph. Consider this paragraph from a proposal for state authorization to provide after school services to at-risk children.

The term disabilities comprises many conditions that may inhibit student learning. Often, students with disabilities require specialized instructional strategies to reduce the degree to which these inhibitors affect learning. Students with special needs require a highly-qualified teacher with training and experience in addressing such needs. As part of the tutor selection process, [the company] identifies those teachers possessing these unique skills, resulting in the ability to match students with special needs with teachers possessing appropriate teaching skills. Teachers will use strategies that allow for differentiated pacing with careful sequencing, monitoring, and control of the learning process.

The underlined words create the topic chain. As you can see, each sentence contains words that refer to the topic introduced in the first sentence. These words keep the reader focused on the topic.

This is the strategy for day 137 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats.

For a sample of 300 Days of Better Writing and other books by Precise Edit, download the free ebook.

February 13, 2013

Create transitions to the next paragraph.

The final sentences of a paragraph have two functions. First, they need to provide a conclusion, impact statement, or action statement relevant to the single idea of the paragraph. Second, they need to create a transition to the idea of the next paragraph.

This transition is created by using words and phrases relevant to the next idea or by specifically noting how the current idea relates to the next one. Let’s look at two examples.


End of paragraph one: “Throughout the grades, teachers build this disposition by asking questions that help students find the mathematics in their experiences, and by encouraging students to persist with interesting but challenging problems.”

Beginning of paragraph two:Students who can successfully solve problems are able to apply and adapt a variety of appropriate strategies.”

[National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000]

The first paragraph discusses teaching strategies, and the second discusses types of problem-solving strategies. The transition is created by the underlined words at the end of the first paragraph, which relates to the idea described in the context of the second paragraph.


I hope they will not come upon us now.
King Henry:
We are in God’s hands, brother, not in theirs.
[Shakespeare, Henry V, act 3, scene 6]

Gloucester’s comment discusses actions by the enemy, using the word “they.” This reference to the enemy creates a subtle transition to the beginning of Henry’s speech, which starts with a reference to the enemy: “theirs.”

This is the strategy for day 90 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats.

For a sample of 300 Days of Better Writing and other books by Precise Edit, download the free ebook.

October 26, 2011

Sentences Make Transitions

In the same way that paragraphs need transitions to help the reader understand their relevance, sentences need transitions. Actually, every sentence is a transition from the previous sentence to the next. This means that a sentence will refer to the information in the previous sentence and provide clues about what the next sentence will address.

To create transitions, the words near the beginning of a sentence must relate to the topic or idea of the previous sentence, and the words near the end must relate to the topic or idea discussed in the next sentence. These transitions show the relevance of information in a sentence and help tie multiple ideas together into a cohesive whole idea.

Let’s look at an example.

(1)The operant conditioning chamber was first developed by Skinner while he was a graduate student at Harvard University. (2)He used the chamber to study the effect of inputs on rats. (3)Various devices in the chamber provided inputs that, over time, ‘taught’ the rats to behave in predictable ways.

Consider sentence two. The words “chamber” and “study” refer to the operant conditioning chamber and Skinner as a graduate student, respectively, which are discussed in sentence one. The word “inputs” refers to the topic of inputs in the third sentence.

In this way, sentence two provides a transition from sentence one to sentence three while adding new content.

This is the strategy for day 25 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats.

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