Improving writing flow: ‘time, day, place’

Image source: in.gov/history/images/1020061j.gif

Image source: in.gov/history/images/1020061j.gif

Thoughtful writers always seek to improve the flow of their writing—to make their content more user-friendly. When content flows well, readers can consume it more swiftly and more easily. Improving the flow of writing helps minimize reader confusion and maximize the amount of useful information that a reader can extract from the content.

Good writers use a variety of techniques to improve the flow of their writing—from well-placed conjunctions and transitional phrases to poetic techniques and word repetition. Ultimately, writing well always boils down to putting the right words and phrases in the right order. But finding the right order doesn’t always have to be a struggle for the writer.

For ordering some elements of writing, a useful blueprint already exists. Here’s one example: time/day/place—in that order. Use the mnemonic device “TDP” or “two dull people” or some other trick to help remember it.

Example:

“The senator met the group at 10 a.m. on Thursday on the steps of the Capitol.”

“The senator met the group at 10 a.m. (TIME) on Thursday (DAY) on the steps of the Capitol (PLACE).”

Two more examples:

“The party will take place at 2 p.m. on Tuesday at the park.”

“Please join us for a reception at 10 a.m. on April 1 in the faculty lounge.”

In any other order, the elements of time, day, and place usually will make sense. But sometimes a different order comes off as clunky and can confuse or slow readers. Ordering content in a time/day/place fashion will help the information better roll off the tongue (or the brain) of the reader—since it progresses from a small, specific, abstract element (a time) to a larger abstract element (a day or date) to a physical element (a place).

A non-TDP sentence like this one doesn’t sound totally awful, but it still carries a note of clunkiness:

“A police representative said the incident occurred at 4 a.m. in the factory on June 1.”

And a sentence like this one still lacks the smoothness of a TDP-ordered sentence:

“A police representative said the incident occurred in the factory on June 1 at 4 a.m.”

But a sentence ordered in time-day-place fashion should never fail the writer and should resonate with the reader:

“A police representative said the incident occurred at 4 a.m. on June 1 in the factory.”

 

Copyright © 2014 by L. Scott Tillett, lstillett.wordpress.com. All rights reserved.

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