The Perils of the Single Sentence

A good general rule on how to write and speak more clearly.

I recently saw the following text in a presentation about HR at Netflix:

The actual company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go.

words

I agree with the sentiment, but bad English muddies the message. Sentences like these are downright confusing. Why not split the single, run-on sentence into two or more comprehensible ones? And why not lose the passive voice while we’re at it?

How’s this instead?

Any company can pay lip service to obvious dictums like “people and culture matter.” In reality, an organization demonstrates its actual values not through its words, but by its actions: promotions, reward systems, and how it handles employee exits.

Simon Says

Want to learn to write and speak better? Recognize that, while writing is subjective, words matter. In this case, arguments are often better and more clearly expressed as several sentences in the active voice. Don’t try to cram everything into one sentence or bullet point.

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2 hopefully intriguing thoughts:

  1. David Loshin

    I agree with your sentiment about agreeing with the sentiment of the first sentence. It is not, however, a run-on sentence. It has a single clause phrase and has proper punctuation. If we were to divest the sentence of its qualifying phrase (“as opposed to the nice-sounding values” which does not have an additional noun and verb) we are left with “The actual company values are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go.” It is still in passive voice, but is grammatically correct.

    Reply
    • Phil Simon

      Grammatically correct or not, it’s still in atrocious sentence.

      Reply

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