The order of the words really does mattter. Sounds obvious but it’s an easy one to get wrong.
Take this photo and caption that appeared in The Guardian print version on February 25, 2012 (they did a better job online).
The problem is the word “her”. Which woman is it referring to? Prior knowledge tells us that it’s probably Miucca Prada. But logic, and the fact that Anna Wintour’s name appeared directly before the word “her”, tell us she’s the one.
The result: confusion. And that’s never a good thing when it comes to writing.
It’s all cleared up in the accompanying article. It is Miucca Prada.
But there should never have been any doubt. A simple change would have done the trick:
Miucca Prada (left) and Anna Wintour in Milan. An exhibition will compare Prada’s work with that of Elsa Schiaparelli
An old editor of mine called it mystery writing: ok for thrillers and whodunits; not much good anywhere else
So when you use he/she, his, her, it, they, them, this or that, make sure the reference is as clear to your reader as it is to you.