Paragraphs–Not a Brick Wall, Not a Pile of Bricks Either

Most bad paragraphing involves big walls of text. Readers see those walls and turn away. They move around the wall to shorter paragraphs and bullet points, things that appear to be easier to comprehend. Those big walls of text may contain important information, but the audience never reads it. 

Brick paragraphsThe solution for writers is not to simply share one brick at a time. If we approach writing that way, we create work for our readers. We make them arrange the bricks into a structure that makes sense.

I recently received a pile-of-bricks email. The writer was looking for help from me, which I gladly provided. But the message made my job harder. I had to sort through 12 paragraphs, which averaged just 22 words each. Taking that pile of bricks, I had to form the coherent message I believe the writer intended. 

Below is the pile of paragraphs, disguised. If you are willing, your task is to combine the bricks into a logical structure that communicates a clear, straightforward message. Do not worry about significant changes in the writing (unless you want to), but focus on paragraphing. 

Note: The writer mentions grammatical errors, which I have repaired in the message below. They were few and minor. 

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Dear Miss Gaertner-Johnston,

I came across your website while reading ESL articles. English is my second language. I do a lot of writing in my job (Facebook posts, email, procedures, etc.).

My greatest downfall is that I write like I talk!

I checked out your website, but you list a lot of book recommendations, and I do not know which to buy or which best suits my needs.

Can you recommend a book/s for someone like me who speaks English as a second language?  

I'm leaning towards HBR Guide to Better Business Writing and Business Writing with Heart.

I want something easy to read as well, not a lot of fancy words. Usually I can understand the context, and I am not opposed to lifting my fingers to look up a definition on Google.

Despite having a college degree, I continue to struggle with English grammar. I feel incompetent doing my job when I have to ask my peers to edit my grammar when posting or responding to emails. The worst part is at times asking junior staff to edit a simple post on FB. Ugh.

Hope you can assist with a great book suggestion. 

I have spent most of my morning browsing at websites for ESL students. There are thousands of them.

I think my email is long enough that with your trained eye you spotted several grammar dilemmas I have been struggling with.

I try not to think too much as I am writing this, but I cannot help myself. LOL.

Looking forward to hearing from you. Your time reading this is GREATLY appreciated. 

Sincerely,

Nia [a pseudonym, of course]

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I will post my version in 24-48 hours. If you enjoy this challenge, I look forward to reading yours. 

Lynn
Syntax Training

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is my 5-paragraph revision:

 

Dear Miss Gaertner-Johnston,

Can you recommend a book or books for someone like me who speaks English as a second language? I checked out your website, but you list a lot of book recommendations, and I do not know which to buy or which best suits my needs. I'm leaning towards HBR Guide to Better Business Writing and Business Writing With Heart. I want something easy to read as well, not a lot of fancy words. Usually I can understand the context, and I am not opposed to lifting my fingers to look up a definition on Google. I hope you can assist with a great book suggestion. [As you can see, in this version Nia gets to the point in the first sentence, which saves time for me, the reader.]

I do a lot of writing in my job (Facebook posts, email, procedures, etc.). Despite having a college degree, I continue to struggle with English grammar. I feel incompetent doing my job when I have to ask my peers to edit my grammar when posting or responding to emails. The worst part is at times asking junior staff to edit a simple post on FB. Ugh.

I have spent most of my morning browsing websites for ESL students. There are thousands of them. I came across your website while reading ESL articles. 

I think my email is long enough that with your trained eye you spotted several grammar dilemmas I have been struggling with. My greatest downfall is that I write like I talk! I try not to think too much as I am writing this, but I cannot help myself. LOL.

I am looking forward to hearing from you. Your time reading this is GREATLY appreciated. 

Sincerely,

Nia

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My goal was to organize the content into logical paragraphs, working with the content I had. That is the reason I did not edit the message significantly. In the comments below, you can review Michele's version. She took the time to cut unnecessary content. 

Questions? 

If you would like to take your writing to the next level, consider my online self-study course Business Writing Tune-Up. You can preview it for free to see whether it's a good fit for you. 

7 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Lynn,

    Below is my version. I am looking forward to reading your version, soon.

    Kind regards
    Paul

    Dear Ms. Gaertner-Johnston,

    I came across your website while reading ESL articles as English is my second language. I have spent most of my morning browsing at websites for ESL students. There are thousands of them. I do a lot of writing in my job (Facebook posts, email, procedures, etc.) and my greatest downfall is that I write like I talk!

    I checked out your website, but you list a lot of book recommendations, and I do not know which to buy or which best suits my needs. Can you recommend a book/s for someone like me who speaks English as a second language? I’m leaning towards HBR Guide to Better Business Writing and Business Writing with Heart. I want something easy to read as well, not a lot of fancy words. I hope you can assist with a great book suggestion.

    Usually I can understand the context, and I am not opposed to lifting my fingers to look up a definition on Google. Despite having a college degree, I continue to struggle with English grammar. I feel incompetent doing my job when I have to ask my peers to edit my grammar when posting or responding to emails. The worst part is at times asking junior staff to edit a simple post on FB. I think my email is long enough that with your trained eye you spotted several grammar dilemmas I have been struggling with. I try not to think too much as I am writing this, but I cannot help myself.

    Looking forward to hearing from you. Your time reading this is GREATLY appreciated.

    Sincerely,

    Nia

  2. Dear Mrs. Gaertner-Johnston:

    My name is Nia, and English is my second language. I do a lot of writing in my job, e.g., Facebook posts, email, etc., but struggle with English grammar. The biggest problem is that I write like I talk. I feel incompetent in my job when I have to ask my peers, sometimes even junior staff, to edit my grammar.

    I came across your website while reading some ESL articles. You list a lot of book recommendations for those like me who speak English as a second language. I need one that is easy to read and follow without a lot of fancy words. I am leaning towards HBR Guide to Better Business Writing and Business Writing with Heart, but I believe you would be the best person to recommend the right book for someone in my situation.

    Thank you in advance for your help. I really look forward to hearing from you.

    Sincerely,

    Nia

    (Lynn, I tried to underline or italicize the book titles but couldn’t get it work.)

  3. Hi Paul,

    Thank you for taking on the challenge. I like your second paragraph, which holds together well. You might consider adding the first sentence in your third paragraph to the end of the second paragraph. I think that connection is logical.

    I added my version at the end of the blog post. You will see that I decided to have Nia come to the point in the first sentence. I made that change because her original message kept me guessing until the sixth sentence–much too late in an email. That start may seem a bit direct, but I could insert a complimentary remark at the beginning.

    I hope you enjoyed the challenge.

    Lynn

  4. Hi Michele,

    Nice job! You did a lot of cutting, which makes sense. When I offered this task to readers, I didn’t want to make conciseness a requirement–in order not to muddy the paragraphing focus–but you handled the task beautifully.

    You can see my revision at the end of the blog post. I did not work on conciseness–only paragraphing.

    I believe that italics are impossible in the comments here, without using HTML. When you need to set off a book title in an environment where you can’t italicize, use quotation marks.

    Thanks for taking the challenge!

    Lynn

  5. I’ve got a big doubt about this: get to the point in the first sentence – and in this case, the first sentence is a direct question. I’d fear sounding way too aggressive if I start an email with a question, especially if it’s the first time I’m writing to someone.

  6. Hi Deborah,

    I agree that’s a legitimate fear. As I noted in a comment above, “That start may seem a bit direct, but I could insert a complimentary remark at the beginning.”

    I get a lot of email, and I spend too much time trying to determine what the writers want. So for me, getting to the point is a big plus–as long as the message is polite.

    Thanks for commenting.

    Lynn

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