A simple idea may have exceptions, further information, qualifications, and multiple avenues for expression. All these are easily and simultaneously understood by the author, but sometimes they all get jammed into sentences that become impenetrable to the reader.
Consider this paragraph:
Let us look at the world of business.(1) What is the explanation of the greater proportion of failures in business undertakings?(2) Is it not obviously the fact that men are allured by the overpowering temptation of personal gains, to take risks which, if the interests of another and not their own, were involved, they would readily see to be too great.(3) While those who are sanguine by temperament are thus led by the budding influence of self-regarding hopes to take undue risks in business, those on the other hand who are by temperament cautious, are prevented from showing a proper enterprise and liberality in business and making desirable, timely and legitimate ventures and investments on account of apprehensions of loss or failure which are exaggerated beyond reason by their self-regarding character.(4) The illustrations given may suffice to indicate the line of argument on which we base the assertion that the motive of self-interest far from promoting the intelligent and efficient conduct of affairs in proportion to its intensity, tends on the contrary in just that portion to become a disturbing and confusing influence.(5) That is to say, if self-interest be regarded as the mainspring of human endeavor, it is evident that the spring may as readily be too strong as too weak for the proper working of the machine, and that under the present system it is too strong.(6) (Edward Bellamy, New Nation, December 19, 1891)
If you read any of those sentences just once or twice, you can feel pride in your parsing skills. But if you’re copyediting, you know that’s not good enough. You want your busy readers to get the gist without excessive effort.
How would you edit this paragraph to make it more readable? Give it a try, then check out my edited version, with explanations, in the October–November 2017 issue of Copyediting.