A Man Walks Into a Bar – Riff #5

A run-on sentence walks into
a bar it starts flirting.
With a cute little sentence fragment.

If you don’t see what’s wrong with the first line of this joke, you’re in good company.

Run-ons are a common type of error. Among college students in the United States, run-on sentences are the eighteenth most frequent error made by native English speaker . . .
grammarlyblog

(That’s from a post titled, “How do you correct run-on sentences it’s not as easy as it seems.” Hahaha.)

Run-on sentence:
Two complete ideas stuck together
without adequate punctuation.

That’s It. Don’t do It.

Do this instead:

A run-on sentence walks into
a bar, and it starts flirting.

Or this:

A run-on sentence walks into
a bar. It starts flirting.

Feeling daring? Try this:

A run-on sentence walks into
a bar: It starts flirting.

How does this happen in Proposal Land? The running-on, not the flirting. Quite often the culprit is writers jamming together existing text from more than one source, or cutting out extraneous text, and not carefully reading the result. That’s it.

As for the sentence fragment (as above & below), it’s just a sentence missing a subject or a verb or (gadzooks) both. They can be effective in small doses, but in large quantities they’re annoying. Choppy.

Often the easy fix for fragments is to attach them to the previous sentence:

They can be effective in small doses,
but in large quantities they’re annoying and choppy.

If that’s awkward to do, then add words to make a complete sentence:

How does this happen in Proposal Land?
By “this” I mean the running-on, not the flirting.

Run-on sentences have been used to interesting effect in literature but have no place in technical writing. Nope, not even one.

Sentence fragments have been used to excellent effect in blogs (ahem) but have little place in technical writing. You can consider using them if you’re writing a summary or introduction that wants some punch.

Just remember: Clarity trumps style.

 

2 Comments

  1. Jim Taylor

    I think you’re making an assumption that words have real-world relevance. They stand for something identifiable. There was, or is, a school in linguistics that would insist we cannot think without words; they are the place-holders for our logic.
    I’m less sure of that position now. It seems to me that words are the labels we stick onto feelings. Not just emotions like love and hate, but also the feelings with which we view sulphur or uranium, bipedalism and aeronautics. Or maybe another way to put that would be that words, even when referring to real things, are never devoid of feelings. You write “apple”; I see a red-skinned fruit; Steve Roney sees original sin; Steve Jobs sees innovation; my grandson sees pie.
    I don’t think that even in technical writing you can ever totally remove connotation from denotation.

    JIm T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – Always some connotation? Well, I think that might be a stretch for specification writing, but in the kind of technical writing I saw, I’d agree. That’s part of the challenge – to communicate the desired connotation while satisfying the strict denotations of words at the same time.

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