Recently I wrote two sentences in preparing a post I never published called “Counterintuitive Econundrums.” Reading them back, I realize they contain roughly the content value of a paragraph each. They’re not perfect sentences, but their advantages over the paragraphs they represent make them excellent models of writing that earns better grades.
An econundrum—combining the words “ecology” and “conundrum”—is a counterintuitive example of a supposed bit of “green” technology or practice that turns out to be less ecologically friendly than it seems.
My favorite econundrums puncture the inflated claims of greenness too often made by commercial operations determined to sell us something they pretend has big environmental advantages.
This sentence packs a lot of material and delivers it in a steady stream that needs no punctuation. Commalessness is not a requirement of good writing, but sentences that charge resolutely toward their conclusion without deviating can gain a lot of momentum and arrive like a freight train. Let’s unpack the sentence into its component claims. Here’s the paragraph the sentence replaces:
Commercial operations are in business to sell us something. Because they know a large percentage of consumers are more likely to buy something that is kind to the environment than a similar but planet-killing product, they promote their products as green. Often they exaggerate the environmental friendliness of their products to trick us into making purchases that don’t really benefit the planet. Econondrums sometimes puncture the inflated claims of the companies that exaggerate their environmental benefits. Those are my favorite econonundrums.
Electric cars make me furious, for example, because their manufacturers pretend exhaust pipe emissions are the only measure of a car’s environmental impact, conveniently ignoring the damage done to the planet to produce the electricity in the first place, a huge percentage of which is lost to transmission before it ever starts the car.
The sentence is a little long and might be better phrased, but as it stands it’s certainly not as clumsy at the version it represents, which takes way too much space to spell out the same claims:
Electric car manufacturers claim that their cars cause less environmental damage than cars that burn gasoline. They support that claim by measuring the amount of environmentally-damaging exhaust that gasoline engines emit when they’re driven. While they are correct in saying their cars don’t emit gasses, they are wrong to claim that exhaust gasses are the only way to measure environmental impact. The electricity required to power their cars is not environmentally clean because it can’t be produced in the first place without damaging the planet in some way; what’s more, a huge percentage of the electricity generated at power plants is lost in the miles of transmission wires from the plant to the charging station before it ever gets into the car. Therefore, claims that electric cars are cleaner than gasoline engine vehicles make me furious.
I invite you to respond here if this is helpful, or if you feel the need for additional samples, better models, or even revised versions of your own paragraphs before or after you’ve posted them. If I can model better writing for you, I’ll be happy to try.