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  1. Seeker of the unknown

    Seeker of the unknown Member

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    Compound sentences and non-fiction

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Seeker of the unknown, Apr 28, 2016.

    In my short journey in non-fiction writing often I came across the opinion that all compound sentences - if possible - should be separated to simple sentences. Mostly I heard arguments of of an aesthetical character. I am not sure if it wasn't mentioned as a crucial principle in "The elements of style".

    I am curious what is your opinion about it?
     
  2. Wayjor Frippery

    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've heard that a sentence should contain only one idea or image or thought, but that maxim wouldn't preclude using a compound sentence (such as this one). I'm not familiar with what Strunk and White say on the subject, so I can't comment on that (oh, and there's a another one).

    My opinion is that, yes — if possible — in non-fiction writing, you should aim for simple sentences, but I wouldn't rule out compounds altogether.

    A wishy-washy answer, to be sure. Perhaps someone will come along with a firmer opinion.

    :)
     
    Seeker of the unknown likes this.
  3. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, good grief. No compound or complex sentences in non-fiction? How tedious. And limiting. You write the kind of sentences necessary to convey your meaning clearly and to give liveliness, rhythm, and readability to your prose.

    Whoever's opinion that was, don't be bound by it. (I doubt it was Strunk and White.) Read nonfiction on subjects that interest you, by authors you admire, and see how they do it. I doubt their work will sound like a first-grader's picture book.
     
  4. Earp

    Earp Contributing Member

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    An example would be useful, but generally, I would say that non-fiction isn't the place for experimental or non-standard usage.
     
  5. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm wondering if this advice was yanked out of context. Nonfiction in appliance manuals, yep, simple is essential. Nonfiction in philosophical treatises, certainly not.

    But which kind of nonfiction? As a general rule, I definitely wouldn't agree.
     
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  6. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    But compound sentences are hardly experimental or non-standard. Unless I misunderstand the term, your post itself is a compound sentence (two independent clauses joined by a connecting word or phrase).
     
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  7. Seeker of the unknown

    Seeker of the unknown Member

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    That's what I thought in the first place when I heard it, but since I didn't have much experience in the enterprise, I took those opinions for granted. Now, although I am still far away from being an experienced writer, I come to the conclusion that writing is not about using stylistical techqniues according to a strict manual. Rather it is about being conscious of their functions and effects, and apply them based on the results we want to achieve.

    The non-fiction I am interested in are mostly essays concerned with philosophical and psychological matters as well as social analysis. I would also like to weave into them some subtle poetry, which is not pretentious, but adds some secondary aesthetic value. Its hard for me to imagine achieving that without using compound sentences.
     
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  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that whoever gave this advice--and by the way, do you have a link to one of them? I'm curious.--was defining "non fiction" as certain subsets of the huge body of writing that happens to not be fiction. How-to books, some types of self-help books, references (for example, etiquette guides or travel guides), some textbooks, that sort of thing.
     
  9. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I missed this when it first came out...

    For non-fiction, simple clear sentences are what you should strive for. Read a legal contract; if you can't understand it, it's lawyer's-fee fodder, because somebody's likely to take it to court to have it clarified. In the same way, if the non-fiction you write isn't crystal-clear, you're not telling the reader what you know, or think; you're telling him what HE thinks. Whenever I've read "essays concerned with philosophical and psychological matters as well as social analysis" I'm usually aware of this overcomplicated sentence structure to the extent that I'm convinced that the author is a/trying to prove - to the reader - how clever he is by how many words he can use that you have to look up, or b/is trying to hide his lack of originality by rewording somebody else's ideas in a more flowery style.

    On the other hand, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon is a masterpiece of compound sentences in addition to being a serious history book. Legend has it that Winston Churchill used it as the model for his writings.
     
  10. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I write non-fiction for a living and use plenty of compound sentences. I think a good rule is that non-fiction should prioritise clarity over style (in fact, same goes for fiction IMO) but compound sentences don't necessarily reduce clarity.
     
  11. Seeker of the unknown

    Seeker of the unknown Member

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    I understand your line of thinking, but there is a third possible explanation, which I believe is my case - author's language is overly contaminated with academic jargon and he doesn't have the skills to put things in simple terms.

    Anyway, my goal as a non-fiction writer is clarity, which is in accord with most of what has already been said here.
     
  12. joe sixpak

    joe sixpak Banned

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    often it is harder to communicate technical material with shorter sentences.
    there are often examples of bad sentences because engineers generally dont know how to write
    but it is the management suits who push for simplicity

    and using the idioms or jargon that are common aids communication between technical people even if others have to work harder to grok the content


     

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