In his article, labeled “Commentary,” the writer addressed the challenges facing a college football coach whose team lost most of its experienced players to graduation. Unfortunately, his efforts to write with clarity about this problem presented this reader with some sticky challenges. The reader must work at it to get to the point.
The writer, an experienced member of this newspaper’s staff, displayed his fondness for introductory clauses, whose supposed purpose is to provide the reader with important detail relevant to the point, which will show up, eventually, one hopes. Two examples leap out. His lede offers our first example. For the uninitiated, that’s his opening sentence. Here it is:
Even if the surroundings hadn’t been unfamiliar and different, even if practicing on the game field at Kenan Stadium — as North Carolina will do while its practice fields are being renovated — wasn’t odd enough, all you had to do was look around to see who wasn’t there.
That’s a lot of work for the reader to arrive at the writer’s point, which is . . .? My guess is: One need only to look around to notice the absence of players familiar to the reader. One needs to labor patiently through a word-laden opening clause to get to the point. What information does this delaying clause offer? The surroundings for the team’s practice are unfamiliar. They also are different. They are located at Kenan Stadium. The team represents the University of North Carolina. Its practice fields are being renovated. All of this is odd. (Whew. Got it. Now, what was your point?)
To the writer’s credit, his second paragraph begins with a dandy sentence:
So many familiar names, mainstays of the North Carolina program over the past few seasons, all gone. Why is this sentence better for the reader? It states an important fact simply and clearly, then gets out of its own way. No clutter.
Here’s his second example of reader gratification delayed by an introductory clause:
Asked a question afterward about a freshman who appeared to work with the starting group during the opening portion of practice, Larry Fedora insisted he didn’t even have a starting group yet.
Does the reader need to be told that Coach Fedora’s comment came in response to a question? Isn’t that obvious? The writer’s introductory clause offers the reader these facts: The writer noticed a freshman who appeared to be working with the starting group. That happened in the opening portion of practice. The writer asked the coach about it “afterward.” After practice ended? Following the writer’s observation? Does it matter? How important are these details to the reader? Not very. The point, one gathers, is that the coach says he doesn’t have a starting group yet. Why not just say that?
When one writes for publication, the most important person in the process is the reader, who desires and deserves quick and easy access to the information you are providing. Writers succeed then they keep the reader in mind as they write. The good old K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) method still works, although I would prefer to drop the second “S.” If a writer has a head full of details, keeping the writing simple isn’t easy, but it always works.