The other day I got an interesting question about word order from someone who had attended my Better Business Writing class. I will call him Ajay.
Ajay wanted to know which of these two sentences was better:
I am sending my resume out.
I am sending out my resume.
What is your view? Do you prefer the first or second version? Why?
Think about your answer before looking down and reading mine.
It depends what Ajay wants to emphasize. The most powerful position in the sentence is normally the final word or phrase. As Strunk and White wrote in The Elements of Style, “The proper place in the sentence for the word or group of words that the writer desires to make most prominent is usually the end.”
Whatever word Ajay uses in the final position will get the most attention.
If Ajay wants to emphasize his resume, the better sentence is “I am sending out my resume.”
If he wants to emphasize out–as in outside his current company or outside his home office–the better sentence may be “I am sending my resume out.”
But what if Ajay does not intend to emphasize any part of his sentence? In that case, sentence flow and power can be deciding factors. To my ear, “I am sending out my resume” flows better and feels decisive, with the noun at the end. “I am sending my resume out” feels less powerful, since the sentence ends with a less engaging word, the adverb out.
Another guideline is to keep closely related words together. Consider this sentence:
You can pick your Rome itinerary up at the hospitality counter.
At first glance, it appears that readers can pick their Rome itinerary. Do they pick it “up at the hospitality counter”? Or do they merely pick up the itinerary there?
The sentence would be clearer this way:
You can pick up your Rome itinerary at the hospitality counter.
If you are unsure about word order in your sentences, try reading them aloud with no emphasis. Listen to recognize whether the words themselves carry the emphasis you intended.
Do you have suggestions or examples to help others understand word order? Please share them.