Thursday, September 20, 2007

Fun with Words: Sentence Diagrams

In fourth grade, I had a teacher obsessed with diagramming sentences. We each had a set of colored pencils—one for each part of speech—and a notebook with which to create beautiful complexities. I kept that notebook and look at its pages in wonder every decade or so.

I still harbor a fondness for diagramming sentences. I find it an excellent way to work out my grammar muscles and to doodle during meetings. For those of you unfamiliar with this entertaining pastime, I found a web site that gives dozens of sentence diagramming examples.

Creating a simple diagram helps you isolate your subject and verb. From there, you can determine what happens (or, more to the point, what does not) in your sentence. In the battle against the passive voice, this powerful tool points directly to weak verbs.

I don’t advocate diagramming your entire piece. I don't wish to detonate your writing schedule, after all! I do suggest analyzing sentences that don’t flow well as well as taking the main idea from each paragraph and isolating the subjects and verbs. This shows you what you’ve said and helps you focus your article. If you find a paragraph where the main idea wanders off-topic you can eliminate it rather than diluting your focus.

Employ sentence diagramming as one of a handful of the hundred techniques to tighten up your writing. Your readers and your clients will appreciate the focus and pace of your piece when you hack out the dead wood.