Patient has chest pain
if she lies on her left side for more than a year.
Well, who wouldn’t?
This illustrates one of the rules of clear writing:
Put together stuff that goes together.
The corollary to that rule is this:
Separate stuff that doesn’t go together.
It can be hard to place modifiers clearly: where they can’t be misinterpreted. Here’s a list of some things that can go wrong and how to fix them. (As a general rule, shorter, simpler sentences are easier to keep clear. Just saying.) Anyway, in proposals I pull out the time references that are often scattered from hell to breakfast and put them all at the front of their sentences. After all, every fairy tale starts with this set piece:
Once upon a time . . .
If there’s a whole series, the resulting parallel structure can lead the reader through the sequence and even lead the editor to a timeline (fewer words) (hurray):
Twenty years ago we founded this business.
Ten years ago we were recognized as industry leaders.
For the last year, we’ve been the dominant player in the market.
Some people like to put the time references at the end of the sentence, figuring that the event is more important than the when. Whatever. I mean, it absolutely can be and sometimes surely is. Just don’t leave that patient on her side, not even in your notes.
For more than a year,
the patient has had chest pain
when she lies on her left side.
Simple, eh? Yes. And clear.