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Cohesion and readability 
Which paragraph is easier to read and why?

The first paragraph appears in a high school history textbook: World History: Patterns of Interaction, Grades 9-12 (Michigan) New York: McDougal Littell, 2008. (Print.) (378.).

The 2nd and 3rd paragraphs are revisions.

WHAT PARAGRAPHS 2 & 3 HAVE THAT PARAGRAPH 1 DOES NOT:
1. Topic sentence that states the main idea
2. “Clincher” sentence that re-states the main idea
3. Cohesive topic chains

PARAGRAPH 1 versus PARAGRAPHS 2 and 3

For most readers, PARAGRAPHS 2 and 3 are easier to read than PARAGRAPH 1 for three reasons:

1.
PARAGRAPHS 2 and 3 have a topic sentence that tells us what the paragraph is really about. 

PARAGRAPH 1 opens with:
German kings after Frederick, including his grandson Frederick II, continued their attempts to revive Charlemagne’s empire and his alliance with the Church.

Short version: Frederick’s successors tried to do the same things Frederick tried to do.

PARAGRAPH 2 opens with:
German kings after Frederick, including Frederick’s grandson Frederick II, were no more successful than Frederick had been.

PARAGRAPH 3 opens with:
The German kings after Frederick, including his grandson Frederick II, continued Frederick’s efforts to revive Charlemagne’s empire and his alliance with the Church, but they did not succeed.

Short version: Frederick’s successors tried and failed to do the same things Frederick tried and failed to do.

The real topic of this paragraph is the failure of German kings to achieve Frederick’s goals, and PARAGRAPHS 2 and 3 state that topic in the first sentence.

2.
PARAGRAPHS 2 and 3 use the “Topic = Subject” principle:
Make the TOPIC of a paragraph be the GRAMMATICAL SUBJECT of most (not necessarily all) of the MAIN CLAUSES (or independent clauses) in that paragraph. 

NOTE: “Independent clause” and “main clause” mean the same thing.

PARAGRAPH 1:
German kings after Frederick, including his grandson Frederick II, continued their attempts to revive Charlemagne’s empire and his alliance with the Church. This policy led to wars with Italian cities and to further clashes with the Pope. Conflicts were one reason why the feudal states of Germany did not unify during the Middle Ages. Another reason was that the system of German princes electing the king weakened royal authority. German rulers controlled fewer royal lands to use as a base of power than French and English kings of the same period, who, as you will learn in Chapter 14, were establishing strong central authority.
PARAGRAPH TOPIC: German kings after Frederick
GRAMMATICAL SUBJECTS (of each independent clause):
the German kings
this policy
conflicts
another reason
German rulers
5 independent clauses, 4 different grammatical subjects

PARAGRAPH 2:
German kings after Frederick, including Frederick’s grandson Frederick II, were no more successful than Frederick had been. Like Frederick,  they failed to revive Charlemagne’s empire and his alliance with the Pope. They incited fruitless wars with Italian cities and further clashes with the Pope, and  the constant conflict undermined their ability to unify Germany’s feudal states under one king. They  were further weakened by Germany’s political system, which allowed German princes to elect the king. Another obstacle: German kings held relatively few royal lands compared to the French and English kings, who controlled large territories. As you will learn in Chapter 14, French and English kings during this period were establishing strong central authority. Meanwhile  the German kings succeeded neither in reviving the Empire nor in unifying the country.
PARAGRAPH TOPIC: German kings after Frederick
GRAMMATICAL SUBJECTS
German kings
they (the German kings)
they (the German kings)
the constant conflict
they
German kings
French and English kings
the German kings
In 7 of the 8 independent clauses, the topic of the paragraph and the grammatical subject are the same.

PARAGRAPH 3:
The German kings after Frederick, including Frederick’s grandson, Frederick II, continued Frederick’s efforts to revive Charlemagne’s empire and his alliance with the Church, but they did not succeed. Like Frederick, they incited fruitless wars with Italian cities and further clashes with the Pope, and the constant conflictundermined their ability to unify Germany’s feudal states under one king. The kings were further weakened by the German political system, which allowed German princes to elect the king, and by their relative lack of royal lands compared to the large territories controlled by French and English kings–who, as you will learn in Chapter 14, were establishing strong central authority in their own countries during this period. Frederick’s successors succeeded neither in reviving the empire nor in unifying their country.
PARAGRAPH TOPIC: German kings after Frederick
GRAMMATICAL SUBJECTS (of each independent clause):
the German kings
they (the German kings)
they (the German kings)
the constant conflict
the kings (the German kings)
Frederick’s successors (the German kings)
In 5 of the 6 independent clauses, the topic of the paragraph and the grammatical subject are the same.

3. 
PARAGRAPHS 2 and 3 have a “clincher sentence” at the end.
Frederick’s successors succeeded neither in reviving the empire nor in unifying their country.

Clincher sentences are optional, but the “German kings” paragraph covers so much material that a final sentence repeating the main idea is probably a good idea.

PARAGRAPH 2 versus PARAGRAPH 3

There is no obvious answer to the question of which paragraph is easier to read. Both paragraphs use the Topic=Subject principle, and both paragraphs are cohesive. The paragraphs differ only in sentence length.

Paragraph 2 has 7 sentences, all but one under 20 words in length:
Sentence 1: 17 words
Sentence 2: 13 words
Sentence 3: 28 words
Sentence 4: 17 words
Sentence 5: 18 words
Sentence 6: 19 words
Sentence 7: 15 words

Paragraph 3 has 4 sentences, 3 of which are longer than 20 words:
Sentence 1: 28 words
Sentence 2: 30 words
Sentence 3: 58 words
Sentence 4: 13 words

I’m guessing that for most students PARAGRAPH 2, with its shorter sentences, is probably easy to read.

But for a historian or a more advanced reader, PARAGRAPH 3 might be easier to read. Long sentences often “flow” better than a series of shorter sentences.

Beginning writers are often advised to write short, relatively simple sentences. That may be a good idea when you’re starting out. However, professional writers often compose long sentences that are quite easy to read, especially when the reader already knows something about the subject.

When you don’t know much about a subject (as when you’re reading a textbook), you need to pause more often to ‘take in’ all the new information. A period creates a longer pause than a comma, and that is a good reason to use short sentences in a textbook. Shorter sentences = more periods.

THE PRINCIPLE: Inside a paragraph, short sentences produce more pauses; long sentences produce fewer pauses.

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Danglers

Find the dangler 12/1/2013:

The son of a fashion model and a sewer contractor, Walker grew up in a working class, Mormon household in Glendale, Calif. The oldest of five siblings, Walker’s mother began taking him to auditions as a toddler. He was a child model beginning at the age of 2.
Paul Walker, ‘Fast & Furious’ Star, Dies In Crash | December 01, 2013

ANSWER: The dangler is: “the oldest of five siblings,” which seems to be a description of Paul Walker’s mother.

EXPLANATION: In fact, it is Walker who was the oldest of five children, not Walker’s mother. The story doesn’t tell us how many siblings Paul Walker’s mother had.

POSSIBLE REVISIONS:
The son of a fashion model and a sewer contractor, Walker grew up in a working class, Mormon household in Glendale, Calif, the oldest of five siblings. Walker’s mother began taking him to auditions as a toddler, and he was a child model beginning at the age of 2.

The son of a fashion model and a sewer contractor, Walker grew up the oldest of five siblings in a working class, Mormon household in Glendale, Calif. Walker’s mother began taking him to auditions as a toddler, and he was a child model beginning at the age of 2.


Find the dangler 12/28/2013:

Katie Trumpener, a Yale comparative literature and English professor who considered Mr. See a dear friend, said he told her and others that he was H.I.V. positive, but bound them to secrecy. In April, Mr. Ganglani wrote to alert her that Mr. See had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Later, Mr. See told her how “it was like being tortured to be there.”

After not having seen Mr. See in a while, he rang Ms. Trumpener’s bell about two months ago. “He said he had further physical problems and his doctor thought he had perhaps had a small stroke,” she said. “He said he was having terrible hallucinations and he feared that he might harm his husband inadvertently, because he wouldn’t be able to tell fantasy from reality.”

Questions Linger After Death of Yale Teacher in Police Custody | New York Times | 12/18/2013

ANSWER: The dangler is: “after not having seen Mr. See in a while.”

EXPLANATION:After not having seen Mr. See in a while, he rang the doorbell” implies that it is Mr. See — not Katie Trumpener — who has not seen Mr. See in a while. You can see this better when we eliminate the pronoun:

After not having seen Mr. See in a while, Mr. See rang the doorbell…

POSSIBLE REVISIONS:
After not having seen Ms. Trumpener in a while, Mr. See rang her doorbell two months ago.

After not having seen Mr. See in a while, Ms. Trumpener was surprised when Mr. See rang her doorbell two months ago.


Find the dangler 2/9/2014

Christine of My Style Pill posts polished outfits with a vintage flair that make even fellow style bloggers swoon. As a stylist and magazine editor, the blog includes not just a daily outfit but also tips from friends and photos of industry-only events.
NYC Fashion Bloggers: 10 Blogs Worth Reading

ANSWER: The dangler is: “as a stylist and magazine editor.”

EXPLANATION:As a stylist and magazine editor” implies that the blog is a stylist and magazine editor, not Christine.

POSSIBLE REVISION:
As a stylist and magazine editor, Christine includes not just a daily outfit but also tips from friends and photos of industry-only events.

As a stylist and magazine editor, Christine includes in her blog not just a daily outfit but also tips from friends and photos of industry-only events.


Find the dangler 2.26.2014:

But after returning from a stint in the US Coast Guard, my grandmother Lorena insisted that her son take advantage of the GI Bill and enter Louisiana State University.
Excerpt From: Dreher, Rod. The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. Grand Central Publishing, 2013-04-09. iBooks.

ANSWER: The dangler is: “but after returning home from a stint in the US Coast Guard.”

EXPLANATION: It was Lorena’s son who returned from a stint in the US Coast Guard, not Lorena.

POSSIBLE REVISIONS:
But after he returned home from a stint in the US Coast Guard, my grandmother Lorena insisted that her son take advantage of the GI Bill and enter Louisiana State University.

But after my dad returned home from a stint in the US Coast Guard, my grandmother Lorena insisted that her son take advantage of the GI Bill and enter Louisiana State University.

THE PASSAGE IN WHICH THIS SENTENCE APPEARS:

My father, Ray Dreher, was the first in our branch of the family to go to college, though against his will. He wanted to be outside, building things and working with his cows. But after returning from a stint in the US Coast Guard, my grandmother Lorena insisted that her son take advantage of the GI Bill and enter Louisiana State University. In 1958, while working on a degree in rural sociology, Paw bought sixty-seven acres in Starhill from his great-aunt Em—the asking price was forty dollars an acre—and began small-scale farming on part of the old Simmons place. He also started a job as the parish sanitarian, which, in a rural parish like West Feliciana, meant he was not only the health inspector, but often the public official who helped impoverished families get basic plumbing into their houses. To look upon my father as a young man—freckled forearms, sun-scorched face, chest the size of an oak trunk, fiery orange cowlicks blazing atop his head—was to understand immediately that he was a man who had no business confined to a desk. It wasn’t in his nature.

From: Chapter One Country Mouse, City Mouse | Dreher, Rod. The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2013.


Find the dangler 3.29.2014:

As a leading researcher in the field, we would very much like to invite your comments.

ANSWER: The dangler is: “as a leading researcher in the field.”

A version of this sentence appeared in a letter asking a scientist to appear at a conference. The “we” in the sentence refers to the conference organizers, not the researcher.

POSSIBLE REVISIONS:
As a leading researcher in the field, you would be an important contributor to the conference.

We are writing to invite you, as a leading researcher in the field, to present comments at the conference.


Find the dangler 4.13.2014:

In reading the book, an implicit theme is that of fairness.

ANSWER: The dangler is: “in reading the book.”

POSSIBLE REVISIONS:
In reading the book, I found that an implicit theme is that of fairness.
Reading the book, I found that an implicit theme is that of fairness.

EXPLANATION: Who is reading the book? As this sentence is written, “an implicit theme” is reading the book.


Find the dangler 4.24.2014:

Sometimes, when teaching Physics in the traditional fashion, students might “accept” the scientifically correct theory, only within a certain framework–and often will “memorize” that theory only to pass the tests.

ANSWER: The dangler is: “when teaching Physics in the traditional fashion.”

POSSIBLE REVISION:
Sometimes when students are being taught in the traditional fashion, they “accept” a  scientifically-correct theory but only within a mistaken framework; they “memorize” the theory without real understanding in order to pass the test.

EXPLANATION: Who is teaching physics? The original implies that it’s the students who are teaching physics. The revision makes clear that the students are students.


Find the dangler 5.15.2014:

“Speaking as an educator and someone concerned about the next generation of kids and their health and well-being, these things are disastrous,” says Gene Glass, professor emeritus at Arizona State University and a senior researcher at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

ANSWER: The dangler is: “speaking as an educator and someone concerned about the next generation.

POSSIBLE REVISION:
“Speaking as an educator and someone concerned about the next generation of kids and their health and well-being, I believe these things are disastrous,” says Gene Glass, professor emeritus at Arizona State University and a senior researcher at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

EXPLANATION: In the first version, “these things” appear to be doing the speaking.


Find the dangler 5.26.2014:

Clipping the night-vision goggles back into place, ghostly green flakes of snow appeared falling gently around me.

ANSWER: The dangler is: “clipping the night-vision goggles back into place.”

POSSIBLE REVISION:
Clipping the night-vision goggles back into place, I saw ghostly green flakes of snow falling gently around me.

EXPLANATION: The sentence structure makes it sound as if it is the green flakes of snow that are wearing night-vision goggles.


Find the dangler 10.19.2014:

Only now, at 27 do the cadences of the King James Bible lure me on.

ANSWER: The dangler is: “at 27.”

POSSIBLE REVISION:
Only now that I am 27 do the cadences of the King James Bible lure me on.
Only now, at 27, am I lured on by the cadences of the King James Bible.

EXPLANATION: Who or what is 27 years old? The beginning of this sentence makes it sound as if the cadences of the King James Bible are 27, but when you finish reading the sentence you realize the writer is speaking about him- or herself.


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Grammar

Quiz
My husband likes football more than I.
My husband likes football more than me.

To test the meaning of the two sentences above, add the missing words:
My husband likes football more than I.
The missing word is “do.”
My husband likes football more than I [do].
You can’t say: “My husband likes football more than me do.”
So: the meaning of “My husband likes football more than I” is “My husband likes football more than I do.” (That is: My husband likes football more than I like football.)

My husband likes football more than me.
The missing words are “he likes.”
My husband likes football more than [he likes] me.
You can’t say “My husband likes football more than me do” so the meaning has to be “My husband likes football more than he likes me.”

We know this because “I” is the “subject” pronoun (I see, I say, I like football) pronoun while “me” is the “object” pronoun Football is not for me).

hHHHH

Hansel and Gretel – tense inconsistency
Hansel and Gretel live on the edge of a huge, dark, forest with their mother and father. It was IS the worst of times and there was IS not enough to eat. Hansel and Gretel’s mother makes a plan to abandon the children in the forest. The father does not want to do it but his wife forces him. Hansel and Gretel overhear the plan. Hansel goes outside and fills his pockets with shiny pebbles.
Hansel and Gretel Plot Summary 

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Jumbled sentence puzzles

Reed-Kellogg sentence puzzle
All good writing consists of good sentences properly joined.

Source: Reed, Alonzo and Kellogg, Brainerd. Higher Lessons in English. A work on English grammar and composition, in which the science of the Language is made tributary to the art of expression. Revised edition. 1896.


Winston Churchill sentence puzzle
The essential structure of the ordinary British sentence…is a noble thing.
– Winston Churchill

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Restrictive vs nonrestrictive clauses

Commas or no commas?
The science fair which lasted all day ended with an awards ceremony.

With commas:
The science fair, which lasted all day, ended with an awards ceremony.
This sentence means that there was just one science fair taking place. It lasted all day and ended with an awards ceremony.
Which lasted all day” is a nonrestrictive clause because you don’t need it to tell which science fair the speaker is talking about.

Without commas:
The science fair which lasted all day ended with an awards ceremony.
This sentence means that there was more than one science fair going on at the same time. The science fair that lasted all day was the one that ended with an awards ceremony. (The other science fair or fairs, which were shorter, didn’t have awards ceremonies.
Which lasted all day” is a restrictive clause because there is more than one science fair taking place and you need “which lasted all day” to know which science fair the speaker is talking about.

NOTE: These days most of us would use “that” instead of “which” in the second sentence:
The science fair that lasted all day ended with an awards ceremony.

Restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses: How many boyfriends?
Speaker 1: My boyfriend who plays the piano is taking me to dinner. (1 boyfriend)
Speaker 2: My boyfriend, who plays the piano, is taking me to dinner. (more than 1 boyfriend)

Speaker #2 has has more than one boyfriend. So which boyfriend is taking her out to dinner? The boyfriend who plays the piano! We do not use commas because we need the relative clause to tell the reader which boyfriend is taking her out to dinner. The clause is restrictive.)

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Sentence & style analysis

Why did Churchill use the passive voice?:

The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world except in the abodes of the guilty goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unweakened by their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of world war by their prowess and their devotion.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. (Prolonged cheers.)

Winston Churchill 1940

ANSWER: I don’t know the answer!

But here’s what I think.

I think Churchill uses the passive voice because it allows him to place “so many” directly next door to “so few.”

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed [passive voice] by so many to so few.

versus:

Never in the field of human conflict have so many owed [active voice] so much to so few.

To explain:

Churchill opens his speech by comparing loss of life in the current war England is fighting (WWII) to loss of life in World War I:

The British casualties in the first twelve months of the Great War amounted to 365,000. In this war, I am thankful to say, British killed, wounded, prisoner, and missing, including civilians, do not exceed 22,000. A large proportion of these are alive as prisoners of war.

At the time of Churchill’s speech, the war is being fought in the air:

The great air battle which has been in progress over this island for the last few weeks has recently attained a high intensity.

The passive voice construction allows Churchill to draw a very sharp contrast, via parallelism (scroll to the end of that handout to read the section on speech writers’ use of parallelism), between the many and the few: between the many who are being fought for (British citizens) and the few who are actually doing the fighting (British airmen):

owed by so many to so few
owed by so many [British civilians] to so few [British airmen]

The active-voice version of the sentence uses a parallel construction, but it separates “so many” from “so few”:

Never in the field of human conflict have so many owed [active voice] so much to so few.

In the active-voice version, the stark contrast between the many and the few is softened, I think.

By the way, if you listen, you’ll notice that President Obama uses a great deal of parallelism in his speeches.

tTTTT

Text reconstruction
A simple text reconstruction exercise
INSTRUCTIONS: Number the sentences in the order you believe they appear in the original paragraph. Then copy the paragraph on a sheet of paper.

Important: Don’t copy word for word! Try to remember 5 to 10 words (and punctuation marks) at a time.

__5___ A crane would take away your courage and your skill—three cranes would leave you with as much fight as a lettuce leaf.
__3___ There were signs that told a warrior to fight, or to pack up and go home.
_  2__ They believed that there were good days for fighting and bad days.
__1___ The Celts were fearless fighters yet they could easily be put off a fight.
__4___ If he saw a crane bird, for example, he knew that would bring him bad luck.

The Celts were fearless fighters yet they could easily be put off a fight. They believed that there were good days for fighting and bad days. There were signs that told a warrior to fight, or to pack up and go home. If he saw a crane bird, for example, he knew that would bring him bad luck. A crane would take away your courage and your skill—three cranes would leave you with as much fight as a lettuce leaf.

adapted from:
Deary, Terry. The Cut-Throat Celts. Illus. Martin Brown. London: Scholastic Children’s Books, 1997. (Print.) (5).

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