Write to the Point: Tips for clear, effective writing from Gary Kinder, New York Times bestselling author, writing expert for the American Bar Association, and founder of WordRake.

Parrot Skewers at Vilcabamba

Inca thinking of comma
(Inca image public domain via Wikipedia)

Throughout history, whole societies almost overnight have gone the way of the dodo. For example, history records that the Pizarro brothers took down 10 million Inca with 168 men (plus confusing pale skin, a few blunderbusses, and a dollop of smallpox). But a little-known fact is that earlier in the 16th century, Inca society already had weakened internally, as whole segments of the population, from Machu Picchu to Vilcabamba, couldn’t decide whether and where they needed commas in the following sentence:

The Pleiadians who helped us carve those huge monkeys and hummingbirds across the Nazca Plain were tall red fellas with large heads and one green bulbous eye.

The rising angst among the populace made the Inca easy prey, and precisely as that angst reached crescendo, the Pizarros rowed ashore in clanking armor. If the Inca had known the answer to this question, they could have avoided the devastating plague of apoplexy that swept their empire and left them vulnerable: When do we separate two adjectives with a comma? You can understand their confusion.

With recent advances in modern society, we now know we must conduct a two-part test: first, reverse the order of the two adjectives; second, separate them with “and.” If both tests still sound right, then those two adjectives are “coordinate” (bless the grammarians and their obsession with labeling), and we need to separate them with a comma.

We test the first string of adjectives, “tall red fellas.” First, we reverse the order: “red tall fellas,” which doesn’t work; next, we insert “and”: “tall and red fellas,” which also fails. So the two adjectives are not “coordinate,” and we do not need to place a comma between them.

We now test “one green . . . eye”: “green one . . . eye” and “one and green . . . eye” don’t work, so no comma there either; finally, we test “green bulbous eye” with “bulbous green eye” and “green and bulbous eye,” and both work, so we have to separate them with a comma.

Here is the proper sentence the Inca were looking for, a difference of one comma:

The Pleiadians who helped us carve those huge monkeys and hummingbirds across the Nazca Plain were tall red fellas with large heads and one green, bulbous eye.

Back here in the 21st century, you might write:

Microsoft is a big international company.

Do you put a comma between “big” and “international?” Apply the two tests: Microsoft is an international big company. Microsoft is a big and international company. Both versions sound awkward, so we put no comma between them:

Microsoft is a big international company.

But here:

We are looking for an experienced creative motivated developer.

whether we say “creative experienced developer” or “experienced and creative developer” or “motivated creative developer” or “creative and motivated developer,” every example sounds right, so the adjectives are “coordinate” and each pair requires a comma in the middle:

We are looking for an experienced, creative, motivated developer.

If only the Inca had known; the masses would have remained calm, welcomed the Pizarro brothers with bare feet and gold-dusted arms, fattened them on roasted parrot, and sacrificed them to the Pleiadians atop Machu Picchu. And all those Inca who disappeared would have lived at 12,000 feet to ripe old ages of around 115. Francisco Pizarro recorded in his diary that when he strangled the Inca chief with a garrote, he thought he heard the chief mutter, “My empire for a comma, agggh.” Confused, Francisco added, “Go figure.” History is so fragile.

A Melody for the Eyes

When we refer to someone as a “born writer,” we mean this person has an ear tuned to the sound words make on paper, an innate ability to turn syntax into a melody for the eyes. If that innate ability were an orchestra, the string section would be “parallel construction.”

Parallel construction can be subtle and soothing, poetry hiding in prose, as seen in a 1940 essay by E. B. White:

It wasn’t just the sleighs that were buried; it was the sense of the past, something of merriment gone, a sound of bells over snow.

or memorable, like this maxim from Lao Tzu:

If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present. 

We should write in parallel when we play two clauses against each other:

Extra-large schoolboys are called Tarzan in admiration, and undersized ones are called Tarzan in derision.

and when we string words in a series:

He put in stretches as an accountant, as a clerk, and as a peddler.

If we do not blend our syntax with parallel construction, our reader’s eyes hear not the string section of the orchestra, but a fifth grader on the trumpet with his buddy on the kazoo:

Drinking too much wine can be as harmful as not to drink enough.

 In Germany, patents are granted for any invention that is newsusceptible of industrial application, and involves an inventive step.

 Because the agents had no express authority, it is also unlikely that any implied theory of liability exists.

We establish the rhythm of a parallel pattern by repeating the same word or the same part of speech:

Combining their resources of no capital, no experience, and no contacts, Burroughs and a partner founded an advertising agency.

The steamboat has been laid off, the wharf is in ruins, the factories are gone, and the population has dwindled.

The more charts and graphs flourish, the faster business decays.

Note the difference in the kazoo examples above when we make them parallel:

Drinking too much wine can be as harmful as not drinking enough.

In Germany, patents are granted for any invention that is new, that is susceptible of industrial application, and that involves an inventive step.

Because the agents had no express authority, it is also likely they had no implied authority.

Only minutes ago, I saw and had to include this excellent example of parallel construction by Hillel Italie of the Associated Press. He writes about the late Peter Matthiessen:

Much of his fiction, from At Play in the Fields of the Lord to Bone by Bone, bestowed a lion-like aura upon nature – grand when respected, dangerous when provoked, tragic when exploited.

That’s a melody for the eyes. Whether you write a brief to a judge, an email to a client, or a report to a supervisor, using parallel construction catches your reader’s eye and captures your reader’s imagination.

No Word Left Behind

ancient Greek writing
Writing a five-wax-tablet paper.

Today WordRake announces one of the greatest breakthroughs in the annals of formal education. We launched WordRake editing software almost two years ago, and as of last night, it has helped professionals remove 49,958,346,719 useless words, which we have collected and saved. As we pass the 50-Billion mark today, we will now reverse the WordRake engine and redistribute all of those useless words to those who need them most: The American Student.

Teachers have long required students to write papers of at least five pages on the person who has most influenced their lives, instead of writing one, tight, evocative paragraph. Is that fair? How can we require our students to fill five pages, if we do not supply them with the useless words to do so? Beginning today, WordRake will donate all 50 Billion words to American Education in an ambitious new program: No Word Left Behind.

Under the program, every child in America will receive a ten-year supply of “at all,” “It should be noted that,” “especially,” “bear in mind,” “in order,” and thousands of other useless words and phrases. From New York to Los Angeles, Seattle to Miami, every child in the American Education System will be able to avoid writing sentences like:

  It made no difference.

  and be fully equipped to write: 

It should be especially noted that as far as I was concerned, it really made no difference at all to me.  

Can you imagine how American Student scores will soar in international educational competition? No longer will they have to write: 

Benjamin Franklin had a younger sister named Jane. 

They can now write:  

Indeed, it is common knowledge that Benjamin Franklin had a younger sister who went by the name of Jane. 

Oh, the possibilities: 

During this time, many students realized that war had not accomplished Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People. 

could become:

It was during this time that many citizens, most particularly students, came to the realization that Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People had not yet been accomplished through the bloody hardships of war.

And:

To remain himself, Joyce rebelled against his fate.

could easily swell to:

That may be all the more true if we bear in mind that Joyce was driven by his fate into many rebellions in order to succeed in being himself.

 I am proud of our company, and I am proud to announce further that because of No Word Left Behind, WordRake CEO Jim, our entire engineering team headed by Chief Engineer Scott, and I have been invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to meet with her at the White House where we will hand deliver a packet filled with useless words to Malia and Sasha Obama to use in their studies. We at WordRake will not rest until every child in America has all of the useless words needed to compete in school and later in the business world.

From all of us at WordRake to all of you, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for providing all of those useless words. And may God never cease and desist to Bless America.

No Joke

laughing catI owe everyone a huge apology. Two weeks ago, I told you about the summer I learned to type. I included this sentence in the original: “I could bang out 17 words a minute with no more that six or seven mistakes.”

Pat, who sends the Tips to you, thought I did it on purpose because the typo appeared in a sentence about making typos, and because she knows I have a weakness for irony, hidden jokes, and generally stupid, tongue-in-cheek stuff. She thought, “How deliciously ironic.” Although still ironic, this was a real typo, but I thought, “What a great idea!” Then I thought, Instead of that-which-should-be-than, make it sex-which-should-be-six. That way, nobody will miss the joke.

I laughed so hard, I drooled. Every time I read it, I drooled more. I was having a great time, until your responses to that sentence nearly jammed our server: “Uh, Mr. Kinder, I think you meant six.” But I accept full responsibility for the misunderstanding: I forgot we are so used to laugh tracks telling us when to laugh, that no one would get the joke unless we told them it was a joke.

So I talked to the WordRake engineers, and they have invented a laugh track for written words. (These guys are amazing.) That way, you don’t have to figure out when to laugh. We do it all for you. (Ha, ha.) And for a little extra, we will even laugh so you don’t have to. (Whoa ho ho). Now, when I go sideways entertaining myself, I will leave none of you behind. Just kidding; I’ll still lose some of you. (Laugh out loud.)

But seriously, long before I decided to write rather than practice law, I realized that if I wanted to capture a reader’s imagination, I had to be specific. After you remove words with no meaning (ha, no joke, that’s what WordRake does), you now have room to capture your reader’s imagination with vivid detail. That is Rule 12 in The Elements of Style: “Use definite, specific, concrete language.” Over 40 years ago, I read Strunk and White’s before-and-after examples of Rule 12; I am typing them now from memory. (Smile, shake head, amazing):

vague: A period of unfavorable weather set in.
specific: It rained every day for a week.

That simple. You memorize them, too, and you will never forget how to engage a reader. “The surest way to arouse and hold the attention of the reader,” say Strunk and White, “is by being specific, definite, and concrete.” (Scream, bend over, laugh hysteri . . . . No, no, I’m sorry, let me reset this thing.) “The greatest writers … are effective largely because … their words call up pictures.”

Great for a novelist, you say, but this sentence needs to go in our company’s proposal chasing after the business of a mid-size city:

The City’s hard work has led to a bustling array of businesses, quality community services, bountiful recreation opportunities, and welcoming places for the community to gather.

Wow! Could we be a little more vague? (Nod, grin.) Are we talking boutiques and wine shops and tapas bars, here? (Dope slap.) Little League parks and real grass soccer fields and jogging trails with a parcourse? Shuffleboard and teeter totters and horseshoes and chess boards and gazebos and water fountains that spurt from the ground? Give us something to help us picture what you mean. Then you get us involved, you get us to listen, to understand, to appreciate, to act. But “bustling array” gets us to do nothing but yawn. (Seriously.)

That’s the Tip for this week. I hope the laugh track helped. If you still think you’re missing the humor, it sometimes helps to have someone read the Tip to you, someone who will get the jokes, like your seven-year-old in the back seat. She will understand. (Chuckle.) Seven-year-olds get me. (Smack forehead, wince, bark like a seal.)

Was Sasquatch on Noah’s Ark?

You’re on “Coast-to-Coast” with George Noory, and for one hour you’ve debated George’s other guest, who is an expert on where Noah’s Ark landed on Mount Ararat. He has scripture and physical proof, and never mind that the proof has long been identified as wood splinters from a railroad tie in Long Beach.

After the other guest fields a question about how many sasquatches boarded the ark, George says, “Well, gentlemen, that is a fascinating story. And…to be continued.” The party’s over. George adds, “Thank you for coming on our show,” and you say, “Thanks for having me,” which sounds like your five-year-old daughter leaving a sleepover. We all need a more gracious, eloquent, adult way of saying goodbye on the air. It’s the hardest part of our 15 fame minutes. The trick is to say something that will get us invited back, so we can extend those minutes, because, you must have heard, there will be a prize for the most minutes.

So what do you say? “It’s my pleasure, George. You ask great questions.” I don’t think so. You say, “Great, George, great, a transcendent show, a real pleasure to be with you. Next time, I want to talk to your three million listeners about the word ‘as.’” See what I mean? Now George gets excited. “Will one hour be enough, or should I tell my producer to block out two?” That’s the way it works.

When George cancels his other guests, and you return the next night, tell the audience, “Treat the word ‘as’ like you treat the words ‘in’ and ‘of’ (Tip: “Whether Pigs Have Wings”): look around it for words you can remove with no loss of meaning.”

. . . or at any other address as to which the Holder shall have provided . . . .

As a solution, VSDC has proposed and calculated a weighted average . . . .

The text of 25(b) of IT-479 is as follows:

Defendants included a Declaration and attached as an exhibit a copy of . . . .

As you know, under the Agreement . . . ,

The following are regarded as part of your normal overhead.

Petitioners request that UBA reverse the city’s decision as a matter of law.

As such, the anti-retaliation provision protects employees from . . . .

If George doesn’t go for the “as” idea (hard to imagine, but just in case), suggest two hours on “Disruptive Innovation.” That’s my transparent segue into telling you good news:

Last week, I participated on a panel at Harvard Law School as part of a one-day conference on “Disruptive Innovation.” Dean of the Harvard Law School, Martha Minow, addressed the group, as did incoming President of the American Bar Association, William Hubbard. The keynote speaker was Clayton Christensen, who coined the term and is the world’s foremost authority on innovation.

I was asked to participate because Harvard professors had identified WordRake as “Disruptive Technology in the Market for Legal Services,” helping legal professionals enhance the quality of their work and the speed with which they deliver it. As one of our patent lawyers put it, “Being disruptive is now a good thing?” I hope so. WordRake is already “disrupting” the way America does business even outside the legal profession.

Spring Break with Sticky Feet

From deep in my soul, I apologize for writing this Tip. So many of you have asked me about this, however, it begs for comment, and I have a weakness for the inane. But this is the lamest, least important writing Tip I have ever written, or will ever write. It’s not even a “writing” Tip; it’s a “typing” Tip.

Our story begins in a classroom on the second floor of a terracotta-tiled, stucco-walled, Spanish Colonial, open-air high school, with coconut palms in the courtyard, in the middle of what is now downtown Ft. Lauderdale. My parents thought I should learn how to type, so I was in summer school with 20 other soon-to-be sophomores. Before the summer was over, I could bang out 17 words a minute with no more that sex or seven mistakes. And I learned that after every period, you hit the space bar twice.

Our typewriters came with “fixed-pitch” Courier font – an “i” took up the same horizontal space as an “m” – which made sense for those who engineered typewriters: shift the carriage the same distance with each keystroke. I didn’t know this then, nor would I have cared, but even typesetters at book and magazine publishers had long squeezed two lead slugs into the tray after a period. Typists merely mimicked traditional typesetting by twice hitting the space bar.

But about the time I learned to do that, typesetters in publishing were cutting back to a single space between sentences. They called it “French spacing.” It looked better. (Remember the French can’t serve raspberry sorbet without shaping it into a large, frozen dahlia.) Yet many years after that typing class, I typed the manuscript for my first book on a plastic, manual, portable Olivetti with a ribbon striped red and black, and I still left two spaces after each Courier period. Everybody did.

Although IBM in 1941 gave us the first “proportional-pitch” electric typewriter, which made a page look like it was printed rather than typed, not until the early 1970s did we start shifting to proportional-pitch fonts, first on a “Daisy Wheel” and, by the end of the 1980s, on the fly. With publishers dropping the second space and proportional-pitch fonts smoothing the blocky appearance of Courier, most of us began to space but once after a period.

Debate continues (“rages” would be hyperbolic) over whether one space or two is more readable, but typographers agree that a single space between sentences makes the sentences work better visually.

If anyone cares what I think about spacing between sentences, I would use one and keep my sentences looking like they connect rather than float like little word archipelagos. The hardest part will be trying to convince your brain, a creature of habit, to send a different signal to your thumbs.

While we’re in Ft. Lauderdale, and it’s Spring Break, and some of you are reading this on your smart phones in the Elbo Room, drinking beer, your feet sticking to the concrete floor, I need to resolve something that has bothered me ever since that summer I learned how to type.

Long before lawsuits over the Stanford “Indians” and the Washington “Redskins,” my high school had a mascot in a white sheet we called the “Spirit” of Ft. Lauderdale High. And our nickname was not a race, or an animal, or even an act of god. We were a winged letter of the alphabet. Not much to offend. But imagine the stadium on Friday night, lights bright, grass green, as the team storms onto the field and the announcer screams into the microphone that here come – quick, get the women and children into the cellar – “the Flying Ls.” Upon graduating and entering the real world, what we believed in so fervently back then, later made little sense. This has sent many of my 800 classmates to the couch, asking their therapists, “What, exactly, is a flying L?” Thank you; I feel much better.

Save yourself some time; at the end of every sentence, hit the space bar once. And I’ll be back next week with a real “writing” Tip.

The Modality of Lady Gaga

The Dalai Lama told me  to embrace my enemies, to be thankful for them, because only my enemies could bring me challenge, and without challenge, I would never achieve Enlightenment. So I welcomed into my life all manner of obnoxious persons who disagree with me from my porkpie down to my saddle shoes. I feel much better now and have only one stop left on the road to Enlightenment.

The Dalai Lama told me that at the last stop, I would encounter my Pure Self. Asked I, “How shall I know I have arrived?” “Look to the sky,” said he, “for a cloud shaped like Lady Gaga in a dress.” “But which dress?” asked I. Said he, “The one with all the pork chops.” Think about it. It explains everything, how Life is all about living in the layers, the nuance, the many delicate balances of meaning. Or as the Dalai Lama put it, “One man’s wiener is another man’s wienerschnitzel.” (Surprised me, too. I didn’t even know he spoke German.)

At this level of Enlightenment, like you, I transcend to the modal verbs, which help me express the layers, that nuance, those delicate balances of meaning: may, might, can, could, will, would, shall, should, must, ought to. I marvel at how they attach themselves to the main verbs to coax them toward obligation, or necessity, or uncertainty, or possibility, or likelihood, or ability, or permission, or all sorts of contingencies: I go, I should go, I must go. Different modals, different meanings. Yes, Nirvana.

For those of you who have not begun the journey, the Unenlightened, I offer The Meta of Modality: first, modal verbs do not have tenses; second, they do not need to agree in number; and third, they do not conjugate. They just are. The Dalai Lama stands in a corner alone, clapping with one hand.

With so many modals shading the meaning of our sentences, we should understand their role and that we sometimes misuse them; and we should draw distinct lines where the meaning of one modal overlaps the meaning of another: like may, might, can.

I can go. (I have the ability to go.)

I may go. (I have permission to go.)

I might go. (There is a possibility I will go.)

Assign each that meaning, and use it rigidly. When we drift across the line where can also means “permission” and may also expresses “possibility,” we confuse our readers. Which is it? Here’s another trio of modals with which lawyers have wrestled for centuries: shall, will, must. Use each only for a single, narrow meaning:

He shall pay. (A weak word many experts propose we toss. I agree.)

He will pay. (His payment lies in the future.)

He must pay. (The contract obligates him to pay. That’s the one we want.)

Could works well as the “past” of can, but should has little connection to shall; it leans more to the certain side of might. That leaves would and ought to, would being the gateway to a much longer discussion about the subjunctive, but I will spare you; it would only disturb the tranquility of the Now. And ought to? Think of ought to as useless, the Appendix of Modality.

Houston, No Problem

Cape Canaveral launch
Photo: U.S. Navy

Every time NASA calls, it’s the same: The angst, the hand wringing, the terrible indecision, the leaving behind, the goodbyes. That well-worn black satchel sits in my office ready at a moment’s notice to go anywhere in the world. Or out of it: 30 minutes to race to the landing field to board the helicopter to take me to the airport to catch the plane to fly me to Orlando to jump in the limousine to drive me to Cape Canaveral to launch my hide into outer space. Once I get to the Cape, I’m fine, waiting atop a rocket pointed into a blue sky, rising from beach sand, thinking about eating all that Spam and Tang for free. But I have to travel light: A toothbrush, a change of underwear, and 35 words.

Unless you count Stedman’s Medical Dictionary and Black’s Law Dictionary, we have about 175,000 English words, so I have to shed most of my vocabulary. It’s a painful process. Do I really need the word specifically? If I had specifically with me, I could write, “Specifically, if you rip your spacesuit, your brain bubbles out of your hair follicles.” But I don’t need specifically to make the point. Well that’s one. Command Control sees how hard this is for me. They make me an offer: I can take along another 10 words if I leave behind the toothbrush or the underwear.

  What next? I look around. “In regard to your needs currently, we provide legal and policy analysis.” Wow, I could ditch currently too; everything’s currently. That’s two. How about presentlyPresently is so much like currently. “We presently represent many tribes.” Exactly which nanosecond qualifies as presently/currently?  How about…now!…or…now!…or…right now!? Trying to pin down presently or currently is like trying to giftwrap tap water. I don’t need them. I’m on a roll. 

On any given afternoon, the promenade teems with life.
(Not just any afternoon, but a given one!)

  James basically identified three areas for improvement.
(Wow, and there are so many other ways to identify stuff!)

We can assist your agency in a thorough investigation of the relevant facts.
(Why stick to the relevant? I want them all, every fact ever!)

Melinda Gronski has personally conducted more than 12,000 private coaching sessions. (Unless she’s a medium, there’s no other way to coach!)

A good solution might be to have appropriate Armstrong  & Aldrin attorneys work in tandem with Ruiz and me. (I’m thinking some of those inappropriate folks at Armstrong & Aldrin might be more fun!)

Now I’m really getting rid of words; so many I don’t need. WordRake finds and discards seven out of the eight useless words above, plus actually, applicable, effectively, essentially, obviously, and so many more. Finally, I am finished. I relax. During the countdown, I think about what life will be like on Mars. I think about the first chimpanzee to orbit the earth with a diaper and a banana. I think about the 174,955 words I had to leave behind. I think about the underwear. Three…two…one….

Barbra Streisand and the Woolly Mammoth

barbra_mammoth
Photos: Tracy O / CBS Television

I’m sure many of you read about the archaeological find along a windswept slope of peat and heather on Scotland’s Isle of Skye: the jawbone and tusk of a woolly mammoth dating from the mid-Pleistocene, which places it tens of thousands of years before the Sumerians chiseled the tale of Gilgamesh. This is significant because lining the jawbone nine feet out to the tip of the tusk appear tiny, uniform scratches from a life form not quite animal, but not yet human. Curiously, not one of the crude sentences describes a living creature doing something. Things happen by themselves. Archaeological linguists theorize that prehistoric “writers” constructed sentences like this because people had not yet been invented. A small sampling:

boiling, please find aardvark egg
impaled, please find bernie
work is currently underway to extricate bernie, but until that is accomplished, there
will be no more carving on tusk

As eons passed, animal bone became cave walls became granite became the foreheads of Babylonian slaves. As recording methods evolved to papyrus, we see a few “people” appear in stories, doing the boiling of the eggs and the extricating of the fallen. But soon we grew into societies, then whole civilizations, and citizens slowly recognized themselves as “people,” and they realized they needed other people, and that that alone made them perhaps the luckiest people in the world. Concurrent with that realization, scribes recognized that things did not happen by themselves, that someone had to do them. Despite this historic revelation, the penchant of our pre-historic ancestors to inscribe sentences without people continues to suffuse our writing today. Things happen, but no one does them.

With seven billion “people” on the planet to do things, I am amazed at how many professionals work hard to avoid using even one word that refers to a person. Things get attached, enclosed, needed, completed, performed, and worked on without one person in sight. It’s like robots do half of the business in this country. Or magic.

Attached, please find a letter of apology.
It is not possible to email a Word document containing suggested but not yet accepted edits.
It might not be necessary to hire an in-house attorney.
We hope the enclosed materials will be of interest.

The next time you write: “Significant progress has been made,” ask yourself, Who’s made the progress? and instead write, “Deirdre and Samantha have made significant progress.”

Or: “It has been a pleasure to work with . . . .” Who’s found it a pleasure? “I have enjoyed working with . . . .”

Or: “Steps are being taken to resolve . . . .” Who’s taking steps? “Rolf Rosenthal is working to resolve . . . .”

Or: “Our goal is to continually provide . . . .” That might be our goal, but what about us? “We at Zimex will continue to provide . . . .”

Whether you write to clients, customers, or colleagues, putting people in your sentences is the easiest way to enliven your writing. Or as someone else put it – who doesn’t matter – when you put people in your writing, a feeling deep in your soul says you were half now you’re whole. I have to go now; my tongue is stuck in my cheek.

Headhunters in the Mist

Photo: Jlh via Wikimedia Commons

You know how it is. You’re at 14,000 feet, dropping down the other side of the Cordillera, trekking past the trickles, dropping into the headwaters, paddling along the Huallaga into the Ucayali, destined for the Big River itself, when suddenly, WHAM! What! A dam? Who stuck a dam out here? Everything was moving so nicely!

Think of your writing as the Amazon River, each sentence a small tributary flowing into a paragraph, each paragraph a major tributary, sweeping toward Pará, your conclusion. As our river guide, you must put us in the flow, but too often, we’re with you, cruising, taking in your meaning, when suddenly, WHAM! What! An artificial transition? Who stuck an artificial transition in here? And another. And another: Therefore, Consequently, Accordingly, Further, In summary: 

Additionally, Eugene reserved a power of appointment . . . . 

Finally, in analyzing federal agency employee’s motivations . . . .

Someone taught us to do this. Probably the same someone who taught us to stick a topic sentence at the beginning of every paragraph. (Tip: “The Worst Writing Advice You Ever Got.”) But if you shun these transition words that mean only, “Oh look, there’s more,” your sentences will keep us in the flow and move us faster. But for too many of us, our Ucayali looks like this:

In fact, DelTech advertises that its 7200 Skimmer removes 100 gallons of oil per hour. Moreover, their catalog describes the 7200 as “capable of removing 100 gallons every hour.” Furthermore, their Sales Manager, Rine Hepburn, told Bogart he could “rely on that beast to suck a hundred gallons an hour.” Indeed, when Bogart skimmed his lagoon with the 7200, he found it processed only 30 gallons.

The relationships of the first three sentences to each other and to the fourth sentence are obvious. When we use concrete statements, we don’t need to editorialize before or after, and we don’t need transitions between. We need only a little “but” to turn and contrast it at the end, a correction touch on the oar.

DelTech advertises that its 7200 Skimmer removes 100 gallons of oil per hour. Their catalog describes the 7200 as “capable of removing 100 gallons every hour.” Their Sales Manager, Rine Hepburn, told Bogart he could “rely on that beast to suck a hundred gallons an hour.” But when Bogart skimmed his lagoon with the 7200, he found it processed only 30 gallons.

Occasionally, an opening transition serves a purpose, but only if the word means more than, “Yeah, and this, too.” Otherwise, skip the cheap transitions and rely on your simple tools: “also,” “and,” “but,” “or,” “however”:

And in Millennium 3 Technologies, the holding has been . . . .

However, for the FAA to apply, “evidencing” requires . . . .

I have an idea for those who insist we keep damming up our sentences with artificial transitions: Turn them over to the Campa to have their heads shrunk and stuck on a pole. I’m just kidding; they don’t do that anymore. They lost the art when they ran out of missionaries with good intentions. But we still have boas, blowguns, and vampire bats. We’ll think of something.