Write in a way that helps create vivid images in the readers' mind

Whenever we put pen to paper, or hit the computer keyboard to write something, the intention is to communicate. Communication is defined as the act of passing or exchanging information through writing, speaking, signs, pictorials or sign language. Communication is either verbal or non-verbal.

We encounter non-verbal communication on a daily basis through things like road signage that directs, warns and informs motorists and pedestrians of road conditions without the use of words. Many are times that a look from another person relays information without the need for words. Newspapers use wordless cartoons, for the most part, to communicate something.

Thus, when one writes for an audience, it is important to make sure that only the intended message is put across the best way possible to avoid a second or third interpretation.

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This is important because the language in which one organises his or her thoughts has a way of interfering with communication in such a way that at times, we end up with direct translations from one language to another. Often, these translations defy the rules of grammar and sentence construction.

There are those among us who actively think in Kiswahili, our mother tongues, French or English while writing and translate as we go along. Lapses during the mental translation process are manifested in poorly constructed sentences.

The gerunds

Let us take a look at some random sentences taken from a local daily, and one from social media to help us put this into perspective. “Maweu said the deceased was shot as he tried to remove his Nissan Matatu of registration KCU 552 X from the parking.” “Maweu told us on phone that two bullets went through the left chest of Otieno damaging his lungs.”

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From the social media; “This one is only for backward thinkers who doesn’t want to think beyond their nose the voters have not spoken just wait for the real day and let it be counted one by one don’t use scaring tactics and yet forecasting the weather is impossible which you only wait until it drizzle” (reaction to the warning that those who resist the census will be punished).

The last quote is not only a 52 word rambling sentence; it defies the rules of subject-verb agreement. Some of the tenses and the gerunds do not fit in the sentence well.

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To revisit, gerunds are nouns that function like verbs after letters ‘ing’ have been added to them. The power of punctuation marks cannot be overemphasised. The sentence above is so jumbled as to be completely meaningless, and this is because its author neglected to use commas and the period.

Singular subjects

Shorter sentences, unless one is adept in the use of commas, semi and full colons, are preferable to long ones that leave the reader winded. The positioning of words in a sentence is critical to the readers’ understanding of what is being put across. One word coming before or after another can significantly alter the meaning of a sentence.

For example, “James comes here” and “Here comes James” mean different things even though the words remain the same. The first refers to an action that was in the past, is in the present and is likely to continue in the future. The second draws the attention of a second or third person to something happening at that particular moment.

‘Scaring tactics’, as used above, should have been written as ‘scare tactics’ to demonstrate that what the writer was referring to were the ‘tactics’ used to ‘scare’ someone or some people. As originally used, the impression given by use of the verb ‘scaring’ is that it is the ‘tactics’ that were being ‘scared’.

On subject-verb agreement, note that singular subjects take on singular verbs. However, we need to be careful while using nouns like ‘everybody’ ‘everyone’, ‘each’ that may seem plural, but which are used in the singular form. We say “everybody is (has been) accounted for”, not “everybody are (have been) accounted for”.

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Because narrations help create mental images, statements like “the left chest” can be misleading. There is no right or middle chest. The ‘left side of the chest’ is indicative of a single chest.

Vehicles are ‘driven out of’ or ‘from’ parking lots. ‘Remove’ is a case of bad form even though the word can communicate what the writer intended. To remove is to physically take something from a position where it previously was. Cups, for instance, can be removed from the cupboard. Diction is of utmost importance.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]

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