If you find yourself reading a sentence more than once, or adding information for clarification, that’s a red flag.
Your reader has less information than you. If you are confused by your work, you can only imagine what your reader is going through. I love a great mystery, but my writing shouldn’t be one.
It’s not the reader’s job to interpret your work. You should be clear and concise. If your writing causes a pause something isn’t working.
I have to admit I love dangling modifiers though. They are some of my favorite mess-ups. I even wrote a blog entitled ‘just for laughs’. They are funny, but not in the middle of a serious scene. You don’t have to try to hard to imagine how quickly they can pull your reader out of their suspension of disbelief.
Dangling modifiers occur when the modifier has no clear referent, and twist the meaning of your sentence in an unintended fashion.
- I saw a tree walking down the street. Who knew a tree could walk 🙂
- The babysitter handed out sandwiches to all the children in Ziplock bags. I just want to know how those children got in those bags 🙂
Misplaced modifiers are similar but not nearly as fun to read. As with dangling modifiers, there is no clear referent, which can lead to a clumsy and confusing sentence.
- Lucy carefully studied the situation. Lucy studied the situation carefully.
Another mistake new writers make that isn’t always as obvious but makes for a clumsy sentence that will cause a pause is comma splicing.
Comma splicing is when two sentences are linked by a comma, but they don’t really work because they’re two separate ideas.
- John saw the rabid fox and ran to the house to get his gun, and he forgot to eat lunch and his tummy rumbled.
What about ambiguous sentences? The sentence is grammatically and structurally sound, but the reader has no idea what you are talking about.
- My older students know I’m extremely careful with my language. Is the teacher referring to age or length of time the students have been in his/her class?
Be clear and concise! Say What You Mean!
Something else to think about.