Three sentences in a trench coat pretending to be a coherent thought

At least once a week when I’m reading, or editing, copy related to work I’ll skim over something and realize that what I just read makes no sense. Sure, the words are used properly. The paragraph is composed of sentences that seem grammatically correct. But if you stop to think about what the copy is saying, it’s just three sentences in a trench coat pretending to be a coherent thought.

Mostly I edit posts for the blog, but I see this in other content as well.

Technically, these are words and sentences…

Three Raccoons in an Overcoat (cartoon)Here’s a, slightly, exaggerated example of what I see from time to time.

Acme Corp harvests all its 1s and 0s ethically, allowing its customers to build a better tomorrow, today. By being a leader in thoughts, we pass the savings on to you and empower a diverse workforce. We are first and best at what we are first and best at, as long as it cannot be measured, and therefore give us your money.

OK, the last sentence is close to a coherent thought and a little too on-the-nose. What we have here, friends, is a Frankenstein’s monster of messaging, positioning and slogans slouching forth into the world to wreak havoc. A Frankengraph, if you will.

If you don’t do a close reading of a piece, it’s easy to let a Frankengraph escape to plague your audience. Skimming a piece and looking for typos, comma splices, subject-verb agreement and so forth won’t save you here. Grammarly won’t come to the rescue. It requires a close read of the entire piece and each graf as part of the whole.

Can it be saved?

Whether the paragraph (or entire piece) can be saved depends on whether there are coherent thoughts trying to bust out or if it’s a heap of word salad mixed together to meet a deadline.

The example given here should be nuked from orbit, just to be sure.

But if you have some valid ideas that are underdeveloped, then you can probably rebuild the paragraph to be suitable for the public. You have to ask what idea(s) you’re trying to convey. Whether things like “ethically harvesting 1s and 0s” actually provide any benefit to the customer, or if it’s just a random piece of messaging or positioning somebody insisted on shoving into a piece whether or not it fits.

How do you avoid Frankengraphs altogether? At the risk of mixing my mythical monster metaphors, there’s no silver bullet for Frankengraphs. It comes down to following solid writing practices (including the dreaded outlines), more editing, and taking more care about how things like messaging are spliced into content.

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