Sentence Theory

To analyze sentence writing, you need to stop thinking just in the terms you were taught in grammar school and start thinking in more cognitive terms. In other words, making effective sentences isn't just about proper syntax (grammar), but effective semantic (cognitive meaning and process).

1) Your method of highlighting should be efficient as possible.
2) Your highlighting method should be efficient as possible.

In 2, "highlighting method" is initially harder to understand because it presents the concept all at once, as a multiword object. In 1, "method of highlighting" presents the concept of highlighting first, and then modifies that concept with "method of". This makes the concept easier to understand at first. On the other hand, "highlighting method" makes the full concept one object with clear boundaries. This makes it easier to abstract away that concept and use it as a part of other concepts more easily.

3) Use a highlighting method that is efficient as possible.

2 is theoretically descriptive while 3 is concretely active. The frame you want to place the user in determines which you should use. 2 gives the user an abstract framework, which can then be filled out with following sentences that describe various highlighting methods. 3 tells the user what to do, which would fit in with a list of things to do which make note-taking effective. 3 can be interpreted as rude, but only if it is used in the wrong context.

4) Use an efficient highlighting method.

4 sacrifices the qualifier "as possible" and changes the concept of efficient from a qualifier to part of the object. 4 is quite unwieldy as a way to introduce the concept of an "efficient highlighting method". So, you should only use it as a placeholder after the concept has already been presented. On the other hand, if your user is skilled with abstraction framing, you can go ahead and use multiword objects like 4 does and save a considerable amount of space and reading time.

5) Efficient highlighting method use...

5 goes to the extreme and makes the concept of using efficient highlighting methods one massive object. Previously, the user was directed to do so something with an object. Now we are talking about the act of doing as if it were an object. The density of 5's object is almost completely unsuitable for presenting the concept. It can however be used as a placeholder if that's what your really mean.

So you see that the content of a sentence can be compacted to various degrees into a multiword concept. As you do so, you lose the organic interaction between the smaller concepts and must rely on the user's abstract skill to keep up. Ideally, you should organize a series of sentences so that the initial sentences present concepts organically while the later sentences present placeholders. Done optimally, this can logarithmically sift the amount of phrasing you need to encode information. Don't lose sight of the local context however. Always keep the user in the correct cognitive frame for the current sentence and the first part of the following sentence.

John LeFlohic February 17, 2002 Last Updated February 17, 2002