Write using “if-then” conditionals
Conditional statements are very common in disclosure documents— although they are rarely written that way. When we rewrote the last example as a conditional, we followed the natural English word order very closely. That’s why the sentence is easier to read.
Here are four rules of thumb to help you write conditional statements effectively:
· One “if,” one “then” When there is only one if and one then, starting with the if may spare some of your readers from having to read the rest of the sentence. In these cases, the if clause defines who or what the “then” clause applies to.
If you invested in Class A shares, then...
· One “if,” multiple “thens” When there is only one if and more than one then, start with the if and tabulate the thens.
· Multiple “ifs,” one “then” When there is only one then and more than one if, start with the then and tabulate the ifs.
· Multiples “ifs” and “thens” When there is more than one if and more than one then, you’ll probably need to break it down into more than one sentence, taking care to specify which ifs apply to which thens. If the information is still unclear, consider presenting the information in a table.
Keep your sentence structure parallel
A long sentence often fails without a parallel structure. Parallelism simply means ensuring a list or series of items is presented using parallel parts of speech, such as nouns or verbs. Note the quotation in the margin.
In this section, we’ve shown each parallel structure we’ve used in bold.
Here’s an example from a mutual fund prospectus that lacks parallel structure:
If you want to buy shares in Fund X by mail, fill out and sign the Account Application form, making your check payable to “The X Fund,” and put your social security or taxpayer identification number on your check.
If you want to buy shares in Fund X by mail, fill out and sign the Account Application form, make your check payable to “The X Fund,” and put your social security or taxpayer identification number on your check.
Here is a more subtle example from another mutual fund prospectus:
We invest the Fund’s assets in short-term money market securities to provide you with liquidity, protection of your investment, and high current income.
This sentence is unparallel because its series is made up of two nouns and an adjective before the third noun. It’s also awkward because the verb provide is too closely paired with the nominalization protection.
One logical revision to the original sentence is to change the noun series to a verb series.
We invest in short-term money market securities to provide you with liquidity, to protect your investment, and to generate high current income.
All writers, regardless of their degree of expertise, occasionally write unparallel sentences. The best way to rid your document of them is to read through it once solely to find these mistakes. Reading your document aloud can make unparallel constructions easier to spot.
Steer clear of “respectively”
How easy is it to read the following sentence once and understand what it means?
The Senior Notes and the guarantee (the “Guarantee”) of the Senior Notes by Island Holdings will constitute unsecured senior obligations of the Issuer and Island Holdings, respectively.
The senior notes are an unsecured senior obligation of the issuer, while the guarantee of the senior notes is an unsecured senior obligation of Island Holdings.
Whenever you use “respectively,” you force your reader to go back and match up what belongs to what. You may be saving words by using “respectively,” but your reader has to use more time and read your words twice to understand what you’ve written.