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The Joy of Running (On) September 15, 2009

Posted by dantemurphy in tools and methods.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

the joy of running_smallIn case you don’t recognize that, it’s the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence.  And it’s a WHOPPER.

Throughout our careers as professional communicators, we are consistently encouraged to be brief, concise, efficient.  But when you’re looking for a unifying statement to rally behind, whether as a mission statement of an enterprise strategy, nothing can top a well-crafted run-on.

Here’s an example, anonymized to protect the interests of the original client:

The proposed solution is…

…a common set of services and tools that provide services and information to customers in support of their business and patrons…
…and enhance their relationship with MANUCORP…
…available on each MANUCORP website focused on a specific product or category…

…accessible by mobile devices…
…whose content and services are organized according to their timeliness…
…supported by a customer profile which grows over time…

…informed by explicitly stated preferences, search terms entered and acted upon, and other online patterns of use…

…designed to provide increasingly personalized content and tools, based on the evolution of the customer profile…
…that may include information about the customer’s business, personal messages and alerts, and specified links to content and tools…

…which can be accessed through any participating product or category site.

OK, so you’d probably never say it out loud, and you would surely need cue cards if you tried.  But there were some very good reasons for cobbling together this grammatical Frankenstein, and the fact that these reasons keep coming up suggests that others might benefit from this insight.

So here you go.

A run-on sentence has a single subject.  Unlike a paragraph, which may dedicate a complete thought to each individual feature, or might speak on even terms about the research methodology, technology, and design, a run-on sentence speaks only of “it”…whatever “it” might be.  All of the detail in the run-on…and there’s quite a bit there, as you can see…is subservient to “it”.

Despite the presence of numerous verbs in subordinate clauses, a run-on sentence has only one predicate.  What this means is that the run-on has only one action, most often an assertive declaration that defines “it”.  Intransitive verbs work well, especially forms of “to be”, but you can also put together some pretty compelling active statements using verbs like “will prove”, “out-performs”, or “has requested”.

In a run-on sentence, there is only one tense.  No muddling the past and the future, there is only one focus.  When defining a problem or opportunity, the tense may be past or present; when describing a solution or strategy, present and future make the most sense.

Most importantly, a well-crafted run-on sentence (I can see the edges of my degree in English curl and fray as I write that) represents a quantized thought.  It may have many components or instantiations―in fact, it has to in order to earn its stripes as a run-on—but no piece can be taken out without impacting the integrity of the whole.  Its singularity confers cohesion; anyone who agrees with “part of that sentence” appears wishy-washy.  A run-on is the Texas Hold ‘Em of strategy statements; either you’re all in, or you’re out.

play like a champion_smallBy the time you present your run-on, you’ve carefully vetted each component and its contribution to the meaning or relevance of the whole.  Each direct object maps to an important feature or offering, and each indirect object represents a key audience or channel.  In fact, whether you present the run-on or not, it can unify your team .

Of course, not every run-on has to be a 129-word monstrosity.  Let’s call that, with a nod to Jared Spool, a run-on-and-on.  A simple run-on can be as short as this most recent example from my growing portfolio:

The vast supply of information tools and services does not meet the growing global demand, because the digital channel is underutilized and the content is not optimized for interaction and engagement.

More important than its length is the singularity of the run-on.  If you can represent your objective with a single, albeit complex, thought, then your path to resolution will be fast and direct.  And if your solution can be described with a single thought, consensus will prevail over the coalition-building that often hampers efforts that lack focus or suffer from competing agendas.

So next time you’re facing a large, complex problem—whether the source of that complexity is the size of the issue or the number of stakeholders —try piecing together your own run-on.    And if you do, please share it…maybe you’ll make the Run-On Hall of Fame!



1. Melina - June 17, 2017

Useful information. Fortunate me I discovered your site
accidentally, and I’m shocked why this twist of fate did not took place in advance!
I bookmarked it.

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