Although the idea appears as Rule 18 or Rule 22 (depending on the age of your copy) in Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, few lawyers know the secret. But here’s the question: “Do you put the important point of the sentence at the end or at the beginning?"
I once put that question to a hundred litigators in Los Angeles. Ninety-nine voted “at the beginning.” I asked the lone dissenter why he voted for “at the end.” He said, “Because I also write comedy.” (Only in L. A.) But he was right.
To emphasize a point, put it at the end of the sentence. This will dramatically improve your writing:
Shemya Island, four miles long, two miles wide, lies only 200 miles from Siberia, at the extreme western tip of the Aleutians.
Shemya Island, four miles long, two miles wide, lies at the extreme western tip of the Aleutians, only 200 miles from Siberia.
With “Siberia” at the end, the second sentence “feels” colder and more desolate than the first, which was key to the defendant’s case. Why does this work? Because readers pause at a period, even for a nanosecond, and they remember what they just read:
The community groups committed to a design review of over 1,000 hours from the very beginning.
From the very beginning, the community groups committed to a design review of over 1,000 hours.
Usually the opportunity arises where one sentence contains two pieces of information. If we examine each, we will see that one is the supporting point, and the other is the main point. Set the stage by opening with the supporting point; then follow with the main point. Otherwise, our readers have to poke around in the middle of the sentence to find the most important information.
A court would be unlikely to return a buyer’s earnest money with no evidence of actual harm caused by the amendment.
With no evidence of actual harm caused by the amendment, a court would be unlikely to return a buyer’s earnest money.
When you arrange the information in the correct order, you will usually find that it’s chronological; what happens first, goes first; as we see in the example above.
We can even change the meaning of a sentence merely by switching clauses:
I love chocolate cake, but it’s fattening.
It’s fattening, but I love chocolate cake.
Same words. Different order. Different emphasis. Different meaning. The second sentence tells us he doesn’t care; he’s going to have a good time.