From Beginnings of Rhetoric and Composition, by Adams Hill:
Clarity affected by word order
Position of Words
1. In a language like the English, which has very few inflections, so much depends on position that obscurity is often caused by the misplacement of a word.
A: Ladies' red kid gloves, $1.25 a pair.
B: Red ladies' kid gloves $1.25 a pair.
A: A handsome gelding gentleman's horse, 7 years old, 16 hands high, perfectly sound.
B: A gentleman's handsome gelding horse, seven years old, sixteen hands high, perfectly sound.
The obscurity in each Sentence B above requires no explanation.
A: Charles Carroll of Carrollton was the richest of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and was the last survivor.
B: Charles Carroll of Carrollton was the richest and the last survivor of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
2. In Sentence B, "richest" belongs with "survivor" in point of grammar, but not in point of sense.
3. In Sentence B, obscurity is caused by the misplacement of a pronoun. Clearness demands that, as a rule, a pronoun should come after the noun which it represents. If, however, a pronoun is separated by only one or two words from the noun it represents, it may come first without causing serious obscurity: e.g. "In his childhood Daniel Webster was lazy."
A: I regarded myself as neither rich nor poor.
B: I neither regarded myself as rich nor poor.
A: These plays were written to please, not the common people, but the dissolute court.
B: These plays were written not to please the common people but the dissolute court.
A: They were a family which had the art, not only of accumulating wealth, but of expending it with taste and generosity.
B: They were a family which not only had the art of accumulating wealth, but of expending it with taste and generosity.
4. Clearness demands that connectives (e.g. "both . . . and," "either . . . or," "neither . . . nor," "not . . . but," "not only . . . but also ") shall stand where they will show at once what words or phrases they connect.
Position of Phrases and Clauses
5. Obscurity is often caused by the misplacement of a phrase or a clause.
A: A lady with a Roman nose sat threading a needle.
B: A lady sat threading a needle with a Roman nose.
A: In "Bonaventure," he has added to his Creole sketches a set of beautiful pictures in a new but kindled field.
B: In "Bonaventure" he has added a set of beautiful pictures in a new but kindred field to his Creole sketches.
A: Amid storms of applause, Mr. Adams was escorted to the chair by Rhett and Williams, both Southerners.
B: Mr. Adams was escorted to the chair amid storms of applause by Rhett and Williams, both Southerners.
6. Keep a descriptive phrase as close as possible to the word it's modifying.
A: Behind his back, Connor was making vehement signs of disgust at his want of consideration.
B: Connor was making vehement signs of disgust at him for his want of consideration behind his back.
A: For two years, my uncle and I had been planning a visit to Trout Pond.
B: My uncle and I had been planning on visiting Trout Pond for two years.
A: On these fine days in May, it is pleasant to stand, like Faust, at a church-door and listen to the roll of an organ.
B: It is pleasant to listen at a church-door, like Faust, and hear the roll of an organ from the door steps on these fine days in May.
In each of the B sentences, the author has obscured the meaning by putting at the end a phrase or a clause that belongs at the beginning.
In the choice, in the number, and in the order of words, aim at clearness.