June 01, 2015

On the Papers: A Micro-Journey Through a Sentence of Horrors

Poor sentence structure can cause your meaning to get lost.

George D. Gopen

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I am going to explore a single sentence. It was written by one of my legal writing students at the Harvard Law School who later produced a book that won the Pulitzer Prize. In other words, he was already a smart and accomplished fellow. He knew what he wanted this sentence to say. If you told him you were having trouble reading it, he could unpack it and repack it in five minutes of discussion, and you would come away understanding his intended meaning. But a sentence is supposed to do all that work without the author being present, and on one reading. Take a look at it.

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