- Effective Writing Practices Tutorial
- Sentence Structure
Vary sentence structure in writing so that what you write doesn't look like a list of things on the one hand or a long winding sentence that might never end on the other hand.
Varying sentence structure keeps your writing alive and readers interested. As Andrea Lunsford indicates, "Constant uniformity in anything, in fact, soon gets tiresome, while its opposite, variation, is usually pleasing to readers. Variety is important in sentence structures because too much uniformity results in dull listless prose" (189).
Monotonous tone can be avoided by varying:
- sentence types
- sentence openings
- sentence length (Lunsford, 190-191).
The easiest way to bore readers is to use simple Subject + Verb structure in all sentences. Consider the following example:
Vincent van Gogh was born in the southern Netherlands in 1853 to the family of a Dutch church minister. He started working as an art dealer at the early age of fifteen. He worked there for five years. Vincent fell in love with one of the girls at his boarding house. He finally decided to confess his love for her, but she rejected him. He was devastated. Vincent quit the art gallery and decided that his true passion was to become a pastor.
He lived with his relatives for a while in Amsterdam and prepared to study theology at the university. Vincent failed in his studies. He then worked as a missionary in a coal-mining village in Belgium for a year. His missionary work unfortunately didn't bring him closer to becoming a pastor. Vincent often turned to drawing when life proved hard. He liked to portray the everyday life of ordinary people. In this period, he produced one of his early famous paintings "The Potato Eaters."
Here's a revised version which has a combination of simple, compound, and complex sentences:
Born to the family of a Dutch church minister in the southern Netherlands in 1853, Vincent van Gogh received his first exposure to art at the age of fifteen when he started working as an art dealer. Saddened by unrequited love, Vincent quit the gallery after only five years and turned to religion, setting his goals on becoming a pastor.
For a while, he lived with his relatives in Amsterdam preparing for the study of theology. Despite his passion and hard work, Vincent failed at his studies. Undeterred by his failure to get into the university, Vincent continued his pursuit of religion as a missionary in a coal-mining village in Belgium. He often drew to escape the harsh reality of life in this impoverished region. The everyday life of ordinary people seemed to attract his attention the most. It was during this period that he produced one of the most famous paintings of his early career, "The Potato Eaters."
A combination of simple, compound, and complex sentences not only makes the flow of information more interesting, but it also improves the readability of the passage.
If sentences in a paragraph begin with the same opening subject, the writing becomes monotonous.
In the previous example, we saw a lot of repetitions of the pronoun he. To avoid this monotonous effect, start the sentences with adverb modifiers or clauses, transitional expressions, prepositional or infinitive phrases.
Rule to Remember
Vary your sentences by starting them with adverb modifiers or clauses, transitional expressions, prepositional or Infinitive phrases.
Relentlessly, the artist worked on his sketching technique until it was perfected.
Until his style improved, the artist spent most of the time perfecting his sketching technique.
To achieve perfection, the artist worked relentlessly on his sketching technique.
He was a promising artist. However, he still needed to work a lot on his sketching technique.
Varying sentence length can help keep the rhythm in writing. A succession of long sentences should be interrupted from time to time with a few short ones to keep readers' interest alive.
On the other hand, don't keep all your sentences short or your paragraph will look like a list. Consider the following example:
The Renaissance was a cultural movement. It lasted from the 14th until the 17th century. Its biggest representatives were Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael.
There are many ways to combine short sentences. You can use either a coordinating or a subordinating conjunction, introduce a dependent clause, a participial or prepositional phrase, or use an appositive.
Combining clauses by introducing a dependent clause:
The Renaissance was a cultural movement which lasted from the 14th until the 17th century. Its biggest representatives were Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael.
Combining sentences using an appositive:
The Renaissance, a cultural movement between the 14th and 17th century, produced some of most famous artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael.
In summary, vary your sentence structure to avoid monotony and keep your readers' interest.