“When I was browsing through my Twitter feed today I stumbled upon this tweet from my colleague X with a quote from Y about Z.”
This was the first sentence in a LinkedIn blog post. In the interest of not shaming the writer, I took out identifying information, which emphasizes the issues anyway.
Maybe the writer made some quality points later in the post, but I was honestly too distressed to read further.
Everyone wants to be a thought leader. But the desire for applause sometimes outweighs the “thought” and the “leader” part. And anything about writing or communication skills is totally lost.
In the interest of promoting quality writing, copy, content, or whatever the kids call it these days, I’ve started making a list of favorite bad sentences. Not to humiliate the writer, but to remind myself and others that we can do better.
Let me tell you why, as a writer, this sentence hits a pet peeve of mine. And it’s not because of grammar.
Why This Sentence is Terrible
- First, it’s best not to start a banal activity that most people do, like checking a Twitter feed. Unless there’s some humor, an unexpected twist, or it is connected to an interesting point.
- Second, that’s nice that he gave credit to his colleague for being the person who brought it to his attention. However, the quote someone else actually said the quote, so this name-dropping information just burdens downs the sentence.
- Third, the actual point of the whole blog post was the very last word. Get to the point, don’t bury the lede. It’s good for both your reader and your SEO to put your main subject up front.
For the love of all that is good in the world… there is a better way to say all this. You can still give the quote, give a hat-tip to your colleague on Twitter, and attribute it to the person who said the quote. But all that should not be the first sentence.
The journalist in me is very critical about the first sentence, “the lede” in journo-speak. This is the hook that is supposed to grab the reader and keep them interested.
You want to be a better writer? Be critical of your hook. Also, look underneath the first sentence or the first paragraph. Often that’s where I discover that I made my point more clearly.
When I see people make horrendous writing blunders, I try to make a point of reminding myself never to do the same thing. I’d like to catch myself before publishing a similarly miserable sentence.
The upside of bad writing, is that it renews my confidence to call myself a writer.
Find a sentence that made your jaw drop? Was is my own??? Tweet it to me at @shanmcf