Varying Sentence Length
You may have received feedback from teachers in the past asking you to ‘vary your sentence length.’ Or perhaps you have a sense of wanting your writing to have more ‘flair.’
Varying your sentence construction is a fairly easy way to write in a more sophisticated manner.
Most readers would realize that the following example is, to say the least, undesirable.
John went skiing. He said he was cold. He didn’t get back until late Sunday night. Sean went with him. Sean broke his leg.
This example sounds monotonous and pegs the writer as a beginner. The sentences are all short, and follow the same formula: subject verb (and maybe) an object. Most writers will understand the limitations of this approach. But what about a more accomplished version of the same thing? Take the following example discussing the use of steroids in high school athletes:
In other parts of the country, we can become more sympathetic for those adolescent users who have not been notified of the dangers of steroid use and who use steroids due to lack of knowledge. Ignorance is the whole other side of the matter where students are not properly educated about the deadly drugs. In less expected areas of drug abuse, awareness of this topic to coaches, athletic directors, and parents is minimal.
This example could use some editing in a number of ways;, varying its sentence structure is one way to improve. The writer puts the most important part of each sentence at the end, which is perhaps a strategy that can work for you. but not when it is repeated three times. In the first sentence, the main point is that students use steroids because of a lack of knowledge. In the second, the point is that students aren’t “properly educated,” and in the last sentence makes the point that adults have limited knowledge themselves. Here is an incremental rewrite:
Some students, particularly in certain parts of the country, lack knowledge of steroid’s negative effects. These students have not been properly educated. It may be that adults in these areas are not even aware of the risks, and and assume their children are safe from steroid abuse.
Notice that we have removed a significant number of words – which usually makes writing clearer. We have focused the first sentence on “students…lacking knowledge” and accomplished this with a dependent clause (“particularly…the country”). The second sentence does not have any commas, and is ‘punchier’ – more to the point. The third sentence is longer than the other two, includes a comma, and is written in an inquiring style (rather than making a claim, like the first sentence).
It should definitely be noted that the rewrite would be totally unacceptable in most academic writing because claims are made without any specificity (what “parts of the country”?) or evidence (says who?). But at least the sentences are clearer and more varied. Being able to write a first draft, like the first example, and then demonstrate the ability to rewrite and edit, will be important to your success as a student and writer.