On Brevity--Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Lite Connector
It might surprise you, but I am a largely self-taught writer.
Then again, maybe it shows.
The last time I had any formal training in English composition, Ronald Reagan was President. The year was 1984. A stamp was 20 cents. The Cosby Show debuted on NBC. And we were all worried about ballooning federal spending: $851.85 billion.
Less than a trillion? How cute! You itty bitty widdle federal budget!
I've lived with a persistent fear and terror since 1984--fear of tiny little words and commas. But after the jump, learn how Professor Wayne Schiess liberated me from my linguistic straight jacket.
In 1984, I had an AP English teacher who taught me most of what I now practice as ostensibly "good" writing. Her particular tool was the five paragraph essay:
- Introduction that signposts three points.
- Topic sentence and Point No. 1
- Topic sentence and Point No. 2
- Topic sentence and Point No. 3
Nearly every brief I write is just an expansion of the five paragraph essay. What's more it seems to work. So thanks for that, Mrs. L.
But this English teacher had an obsession: the sentence fragment. In fact, she would have failed me for that last sentence. She believed that no valid sentence could begin with a conjunction or connector. If you did so, you were toast. For no matter how crystalline or organized or beautiful the prose that came before, the conjunction was the poison pill, an automatic "F." And for a kid who got lectures for a mere A-, nothing could be more terrifying.
But see how I just keep doing it and doing it now? Fun! Liberating, actually.
If you're brave and confident, and if you're ready to make your writing more readable, I've got a recommendation for you. In place of long, heavy transition words, use what I like to call "lite connectors." Not all the time or in every sentence. Just try a few.
* * *
When you want the reader to know that the idea in this paragraph or sentence contrast with the idea from the previous one, you should make it known with the first word. And make it known with as few syllables as possible. . . . .
Of course you can begin sentences with but. Accomplished writers have been doing it for centuries. . . . .
So I recommend that in place of however, on the contrary, on the other hand, and the like, you try but and yet without a comma afterward.
But Mrs. L will give me an F! No, she won't. Professor Schiess is right.
After attending that conference, therefore, I no longer have to write in this tortured syntax where formal, introductory clauses are inserted and set off with commas or even semicolons in order to guard against preparatory conjunctions, which are something up with which we will not put.
It is too confusing. It is too stilted.
The shorter sentence is more readable and has long been valid. So I can follow the practice without fear of being failed.
What's more the lite connector and the shorter sentence serve the values in The Elements of Style:
Omit needless words.
And if you do that, how can you be wrong?
From Andrews Kurth's Appellate Record Blog: