Friday, September 9, 2016

Grammar and sentence structure … they matter …

There is a pretty interesting article about HPE – a company apparently known for its COBOL support (a language with which I have a lot of experience from my early career) – spinning out its software assets and simultaneously embracing a major Linux distribution – SUSE. That article is here, if you are interested …

But I noticed a paragraph that was so poorly structured, it took me three reads to make sense of what the author was trying to convey.

With Canonical Ubuntu, the top cloud Linux, and Red Hat, the leading server Linux, SUSE, which is also a major enterprise Linux player and a powerhouse in mainframe Linux, is one of the three biggest Linux powers.

There are two major issues with that sentence, each of which harms readability. The first is the passive tone, which is done by reversing the thought and starting with some passive description to make the point. The second is several parenthetical asides separated only by commas, as if you are reading a list. It’s a brutal read.

Straightening it out requires that the thought be made active in tone, and that the parenthetical passages be isolated with either parentheses or dashes. In fact, separating the the main statement from the enumeration of the other players with two sentences is even better.

Something like this:

SUSE, a major enterprise player, is a powerhouse in mainframe Linux and one of the three biggest Linux powers. The others are Canonical Ubuntu – the top cloud Linux, and Red Hatthe leading server Linux.

Don’t be afraid of active language or short sentences. They will improve your writing dramatically. (Note to self – you too!)