Joseph Williams on starting sentences with known information and ending with new:
Put at the beginning of a sentence those ideas that you have already mentioned, referred to, or implied, or concepts that you can reasonably assume your reader is already familiar with, and will readily recognize.
Put at the end of your sentence the newest, the most surprising, the most significant information: information that you want to stress–perhaps the information that you will expand on in your next sentence.
All of us recognize this principle when a good teacher tries to teach us something new. That teacher will always try to connect something we already know to whatever new we are trying to learn. Sentences work in the same way. Each sentence should teach your reader something new. To lead your reader to whatever will seem new to that reader, you have to begin that sentence with something that you can reasonably assume that reader already knows. How you begin sentences, then, is crucial to how easily your readers will understand them, not individually, but as they constitute a whole passage. But in designing sentences in this way, you must have some sense of what your reader already knows about your subject.
Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Willliams with two chapters coauthored by Gregory G. Colomb. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Start your sentences with:
- Content you have already mentioned, or
- Content you haven’t already mentioned but are sure you reader will know.
End your sentences with:
- The most important content in that sentence.
Good sentences work the same way good teaching works: a good teacher tries to connect new content to something students already know and understand.
Finally, starting with known information and moving to new information is especially important across whole paragraphs and papers. A reader can deal with one or two sentences that begin with new information, but an entire paragraph of sentences that begin with new information becomes extremely difficult to read.
Start your sentences with known information.
End with new information.