Seven tips for writing great sentences
- Keep sentences brief. ‘You should write the shortest possible sentences using the shortest possible words, in the shortest possible paragraphs, not because people are dimwits or because they’re busy – they’re not that dim or that busy – but because force comes from the elimination of the inessential.’
- Vary your sentence patterns. No one wants to read paragraph after paragraph of fifteen to twenty word sentences. Mix it up.
- Wake the reader up. ‘Use questions, exclamations, asides, commands, interruptions, and inversions.’ For example, instead of saying, To begin with, Marley was dead. Say, Marley was dead, to begin with.
- Be brave and strong. Avoid the passive voice. Throw out the adjectives and adverbs. Make the nouns precise, the verbs forceful. Put statements in positive rather than negative form.
- Combine sentences. This seems to contract #1 but by combining sentences often makes reading easier and smoother, especially when the sentences have a common subject. For example, when talking about the old library down the street: The library sits on the corner of Elm Street. It is an old stately building. The paint is peeling. Combined: The library on the corner of Elm Street is an old stately building in need of new paint.
- Don’t distract attention. ‘If you’re writing seriously, avoid devices and expressions that call attention to themselves.’ In other words, be careful not to be too clever.
- Don’t like what you wrote. Don’t love your words so much you can’t bear to part with them. As writers we must be ruthless; as pretty as our words might be, sometimes they have to go.
From Pinckert’s Practical Grammar by Robert C. Pinckert (Writer’s Digest Books) 1991