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Reader expectations - Subject & verb placement

Reader expectations - Subject & verb placement

You’re not writing for yourself, you’re writing for your reader

 

Readers, without knowing it, expect information to appear in certain places throughout a text. Good writers consider these expectations when putting together a manuscript. In this 5-part series, based on the classic article by Gopen and Swan, we’ll look at some of the elements you can use to address these expectations and improve the readability of your manuscript.

 

Part 1: Placement of subjects and verbs in a sentence

 

Sentences are easier to read when the subject and verb are close together. This allows a reader to immediately know what is happening in a sentence, giving your manuscript good readability. Separating a subject and verb by a lot of text can cause confusion for readers and they may have to re-read the sentence many times to understand what you are trying to say.

 

Example

The drug treatment, at the doses used here, which provided improved survival and a decreased rate of adverse events, including CNS and non-CNS events, had comparable efficacy to other drugs in this class.

 

This sentence generally makes sense, but the information is organized in a complicated way and loses its focus, which may be confusing for some readers. Here’s a better way to write this, moving the verb closer to subject:

 

At the doses used here, the drug treatment had comparable efficacy to other drugs in this class, and also provided improved survival and a decreased rate of adverse events, including CNS and non-CNS events.

 

Moving the subject and verb closer together now emphasizes the efficacy results and keeps the safety information as separate idea, greatly increasing the chances your reader will understand the message you are trying to convey.

 

Next week we’ll look at active vs passive voice and the advantages of using active voice to address reader expectations.

 

References

Gopen and Swan. The Science of Scientific Writing. American Scientist Nov–Dec 1990.


Grammar and punctuation are among the top reasons for being rejected by a journal. To ensure the language in your manuscript is publication-ready you should have a native-English-speaking expert in your field edit for grammar, clarity, and accuracy of scientific expression.

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