I've been reading company mission statements lately and came across an interesting one from a writing standpoint. It's the mission statement of the Hospital Corporation of America, better known as HCA, and it reads like this:
Above all else, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life.
As a piece of writing, the statement raises two questions. One, where is the best place to put the adverbial phrase above all else? Two, should it even be there in the first place?
First, placement. The phrase could be correctly placed in several places. Here are the four best candidates. I'll number them for ease of reference.
1. Above all else, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life.
2. We, above all else, are committed to the care and improvement of human life.
3. We are committed, above all else, to the care and improvement of human life.
4. We are committed to the care and improvement of human life above all else.
We can rule out version 4. Although the end of a sentence is the place of greatest emphasis, in (4) the phrase seems tacked on rather than emphasized, causing the sentence to end anticlimactically. Besides, I think it is better to emphasize improvement of human life than above all else.
We can rule out version 2 as well. There, the placement of above all else interrupts the sentence before it builds momentum, and it seems to say more about the we of the sentence than the mission of the company.
That leaves versions 1 (the original) and 3. What bothers me about above all else in the original is that, coming as it does at the beginning of the statement, it sounds defensive. Why wouldn't HCA be committed to the care and improvement of human life, above all else? It functions like a warning label that says, "No matter what you know or think about our company, we really do care about patients and their health."
Version 3, I think, is best. There, the phrase occurs after committed, an interruption that occurs late enough in the sentence to allow it to build some momentum and that heightens the sense that something important will follow.
But should the phrase be there in the first place? Besides sounding defensive, it's a phrase that more naturally modifies the last item of a series than a single item: recall Polonius's long, advice-laden speech to his son Laertes, which ends with "This above all: to thine own self be true." I say leave it out or place it as in version 3.