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Avoid Run-On Sentences in Your Business Writing

This statement contains an error. Find and correct it:

The next few weeks will be busy. Both the website update and the app launch have deadlines in December. Huang is our most diligent employee, I would like him on my team.

Run-on sentences and sentence fragments are becoming more and more common, and seem to be a tricky business-writing-run-on-sentencesarea for many people. I certainly have been guilty of all of these before, particularly when I am texting. While I think it is somewhat inconsequential to have a grammatical mistake in a quick text dashed off to a friend, these types of mistakes become problematic when they spill into more formal business contexts such as emails, letters, and memos.

In fact, run-on sentence construction (also called fused sentences) is the #1 most common business writing grammar error we see in client writing. Fragmented sentences is the #2 error, and they are very related.

Let's back up a step or two (we have to go back to middle school grammar class now) and look at the difference between Independent and Dependent Clauses. The difference between these two is the foundational reason that run-on sentences and sentence fragments are wrong.

First of all, what is a clause? A clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb. There are two main types of clauses: Independent and Dependent.

An Independent Clause can stand alone as a complete sentence.

            Ex. John is a highly intelligent business man.

            Ex. Suzette was recognized for her contributions.

A Dependent Clause can't stand alone, and therefore it must be connected to an Independent Clause. A Dependent Clause usually happens when you add a dependent marker word. These words are often conjunctions or adverbs, and leave us with a question.

            Ex. Because John is a highly intelligent businessman,

            Ex. When Suzette was recognized for her contributions.

You should notice that by adding the dependent marker word to these clauses, they become incomplete sentence fragments, and you are essentially left hanging; what happened when Suzette was recognized? What happened because John was a highly intelligent businessman?

To fix this situation, you need to connect those Dependent Clauses to Independent Clauses.

            Ex. Because John is a highly intelligent businessman, his company is very profitable.

            Ex. When Suzette was recognized for her contributions, she was given a promotion and a corner office.

Connecting a dependent clause to an independent clause helps us to avoid sentence fragments. But what about the more common run-on sentences?

Run-on sentences occur when we connect two independent clauses without using proper punctuation.

            Ex. Huang is the most diligent employee, I would like him on my team.

There are many ways to fix the sentence above:

  1. Huang is the most diligent employee; I would like him on my team. (You could also add a transition here if you would like: Huang is the most diligent employee; therefore, I would like him on my team.)

  2. Huang is the most diligent employee. I would like him on my team. (Like the sentence above, you could also add a transition here: Huang is the most diligent employee. As a result, I would like him on my team.)

  3. Huang is the most diligent employee, and I would like him on my team.

  4. Because Huang is the most diligent employee, I would like him on my team.

Simple clear language is the key to good business writing, so it is typically best to simply split the run-on into two complete sentences, as shown in number 2:

Huang is the most diligent employee. I would like him on my team.

Run-on sentences and sentence fragments are easy mistakes to make, and are just as easy to fix. Start by asking yourself this question:

Does this clause express a complete thought?

If not, connect it to another clause that answers the unanswered question.

If it does, make sure that it isn't connected to another complete thought with a comma (use a period or a semi-colon instead).

This one question should make it easy for you to find the run-on sentences and sentence fragments in your business writing, and fix them on your own. If you want additional support in this area, Instructional Solutions offers business writing courses that include detailed, individualized instructor feedback on your business writing.

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Katie Almeida Spencer

About the author

Katie Almeida Spencer

Katie is an experienced Business Writing and English as a Second Language instructor, business writing coach, and teacher trainer. She taught Business and Academic Writing at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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