Stick to the Subject???

Stick To the Subject

The most terrifying and misunderstood concept in writing is the admonition
to Stick To the Subject.

When I began my teaching career fresh out of college, my first job was to
teach seventh graders how to write a paragraph. I can constantly remember
saying to the kids, “You're doing a great job. Great job, but you need to
stick to the subject.”

Did they know what I meant?


Do you know why they didn't know? Because I did not know. I knew in my head
what good writing looked like but I struggled to explain how they should do it.

So, I asked all my colleagues in the school district English department what
that phrase meant. I got a multiplicity of answers. Hey, did you like that word,
multiplicity? This simply means I got a lot of varied answers.

I was still just as confused as the kids I was teaching.

Then one night, about three o'clock in the morning, I shot out of bed.
My wife thought the house was on fire. I kept walking around the room saying,
“That's it. Stick to the subject. That's it. Stick to the subject. That's it.
Stick to the Subject.”

I stumbled around the room until I found a piece of paper and pencil and started
writing what that really meant. Simply stated, Stick to the Subject means stick
to the Subject of the Sentence.

Let me state that as clearly as I can.

The subject of each sentence in a paragraph must relate to the subject you are
talking about. Stated another way, the subject of your Topic Sentence must
directly include the subject you are writing about or perhaps the Title of your paragraph.

Then, the subject of the following sentences must relate directly to the subject of your
Topic Sentence.

Let's see if that works. Below you will find two pieces of writing.

Read the first piece and in your mind, pretend you are an English teacher. Give that first
attempt a grade – either A, B, C, or D.

Then go on to read the second attempt and do the same. Give that piece of writing a grade.

Sample 1

Why Your Business Writing is So Important.

Many things are used to determine the value of your writing.

First, it is important that you keep in mind that your business writing helps people
make important business decisions. Wrong or poor decisions become problematic.

Second, there are two considerations with your writing – your personal image and
your corporate image. These two things are their whether it is electronic or paper.

Third, those who are promoted faster, and make more money are selected from
people who communicate best especially good writing.

I hope you allow these things to improve your writing.

Sample 2

Why Your Business Writing is So Important.

Your writing is important for three powerful reasons.

First, your readers make important business decisions based on what you write.

If you can save them time, if you can get results for them, you become more
valuable to your company.

Second, your personal and your corporate images are at stake every time you send
a document. That document can be either electronic and paper.

Third, employees who communicate best, particularly in writing, receive
promotions faster and make more money.

Enriching your writing pays off.

Okay, now that you read both pieces of writing, let's decide which one actually
did stick to the subject. Find a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and create two
columns numbered one through seven as you see below.

Sample 1


Sample 1


With your numbered piece of paper on your side, go back to Sample Number One
and decide what the subject is in each of the seven sentences. Then transcribe your
answer to the appropriate number on the sheet you have created.

Then go back and read Sample Number Two and transcribe your answers to your answer sheet.

Let's compare what you found, versus what I found.

Sample 1
1. Things
2. It
3. Decisions
4. Considerations
5. Things
6. Those
7. You

Do your subjects match mine?

Sample 2
1. Writing
2. Readers
3. You
4. Image
5. Document
6. Employees
7. Enriching your writing

Do you notice how specific the Subjects are in Sample Two?

The title of both Samples is: The Best Kept Secrets of Business Writing. So, what
should each of these pieces of writing relate to?

I hope we can agree that The Best Kept Secrets of Business Writing is the main Focus.

If we can agree on that, then each sentence of the samples must relate directly to
The Best Kept Secrets of Business Writing.

First, let’s check out the Subjects of Sample Two. You will see why I’m starting
with Sample Two rather than Sample One in a moment.

The first sentence of your Topic is:

Your writing is important for three powerful reasons.

The Subject of the first sentence becomes: "Your Writing."

Does "Your Writing" have anything to do with  The Best Kept Secrets
of Business Writing? I think so.

Okay. Hold on. I know what you’re thinking.

How could "Your Writing" be the Subject of the first sentence?

I am not talking about Diagramming Sentences. If you were to Diagram the
first sentence, technically, Writing would become the Subject.

And again, technically, "Your" would show up as an adjective modifying the
Subject, "writing." Now do you see why a lot of students struggled with

In my mind, Best Kept Secrets of Business Writing is one idea used as a
unit of description.

Let’s bring back the Subjects of Sample Two.

1. Best Kept Secrets of Business Writing
2. Secrets
3. Three
4. First Secret
5. Second Secret
6. Topic Sentence
7. Topic Sentence

Can you see that each of these Subjects relates directly and specifically back to
the Topic of this sample? I don’t believe that you can say the same about the
Subjects of Sample One.

Notice the words I used to qualify the Subjects of Sample Two – “directly” and “specifically.”

I don’t think you can make a case that the Subjects of Sample One “directly” and “specifically”
relate back to the Topic of that sample?

Check them out.

1. People
2. Others
3. You
4. We
5. Things
6. It
7. Care                                                  

Maybe, maybe one or two of the Subjects you listed in Sample One could somehow
relate to The Best Kept Secrets of Business Writing. Sample Two is much easier and
faster to read than Sample One.

Yes, I know what you're thinking. This is pretty heavy stuff. If you run into any
questions, comments, or confusions about how this applies to you, let me know.
Send me an e-mail with the Subject Line: Stick to the Subject.
I'll do my best to connect all of this for you. Send the e-mail to