As students move up the tiers of your college education, professors expect more from them—deeper, more critical analyses and more sophisticated writing. This leads to more frustration for students. Papers that used to get A’s now only get B’s, and they don’t know what else they are professors want. Your critical analysis skills may not be the cause of the problem here, especially if you’re an assiduous student. The missing ingredient that your professor is expecting is most likely a sophisticated writing style. Achieving a sophisticated writing style is easy: all you need is to learn the different types of sentences and how to use them. Once you know the four types of sentences, it would be so much easier to write varied sentences for an interesting and intelligent college essay.
What is sentence variety?
Sentence variety is simply the custom of using different lengths and structures of sentences. This is done to avoid monotony, and therefore keep the reader interested in your writing. At times, sentence variety is also done to add emphasis to a statement. Placement of the subject or objects tells the reader which ideas are most important, therefore affecting the way they understand the sentence. Each writer has their own way of varying sentences, which ultimately contributes to their distinct writing style and voice.
The main factor to consider when it comes to writing varied sentences is sentence structure. Sentence structure is the physical composition of a sentence, more specifically, how the elements of a sentence are presented. There are numerous ways to alter the structure of a sentence depending on the emphasis or the effect the writer wants to achieve.
How to add variety to your writing
Over-reliance on either longer or shorter sentences can have adverse effects on any writing. Complex sentences are not entirely discouraged; in fact, they are sometimes necessary in academic writing. However, what is discouraged is writing exclusively longer, complex sentences. These tend not only to sound monotonous but also to be exhausting for the reader. More importantly, longer sentences tend to overshadow arguments as well.
In a similar manner, writing only short sentences tends to stunt the argument. The presence of multiple short sentences in one paragraph overcrowds the reader’s minds and makes it difficult to differentiate the main or the most important idea from the supporting ideas.
The key is to alternate sentence lengths. The ratio of longer sentences to shorter sentences depends on you. A good rule of thumb is to use shorter sentences to drive a point, and then to tell stories or supporting details through longer ones.
Sentence structure is related to sentence length, and this is different from the different types of sentences. The four-sentence structures vary based on the number of clauses a sentence has, which often affects its complexity. Considering these while writing is beneficial as it can alter the rhythm of your sentences.
Here are the four sentence structures:
- Simple sentence – a sentence that has only one independent clause
- Compound sentence – a sentence that has two independent clauses
- Complex sentence – a sentence that has at least one independent clause and at least one dependent clause
- Compound-complex sentence – a sentence that has two or more independent clauses and at least one dependent clause
Some creative essay writers are fond of inserting modifiers, which often come in the form of an independent sentence, in the middle of the main elements of the sentence. Modifiers are inserted using em dashes (—) on either side. Doing so adds variety to the flow of your paragraphs. However, this type of sentence construction may also be used in argumentative and persuasive essays. Be careful not to fall into the pit of run-on sentences, though.
Vary sentence openings
Young learners are taught that sentences always start with the subject followed by the verb and the object.
Transitional phrases are also common in academic writing. Transitional phrases are efficient options as they introduce the topic of the sentence while also connecting it to the previous sentence’s or paragraph’s idea.
Another way to open a sentence is through introductory phrases. Introductory phrases are similar to transitional phrases in that they connect the previous sentence with the new one. However, introductory phrases do this by adding context to the idea being introduced. This type of opening can also function on its own, without a previous sentence to anchor it on. This can be used simply to provide more details in your sentence before proceeding with the main argument.
Rhetorical questions are questions that are not meant to be answered. They are used to emphasize a point or argument. Rhetorical questions are more effective for persuasive essays since it points out an obvious detail to the reader to further emphasize the argument. This type of question piques the reader’s interest, and it motivates them to try to answer the question or read further on in your essay.
Rhetorical questions can be a great way to add variety to your writing, however, use this technique sparingly. First and foremost, be careful with the purpose of your essay. Rhetorical questions are typically not used in scientific papers; but they are common in argumentative, personal narrative essays, and even in cause and effect essays. Second, make sure to ask a rhetorical question about an idea or topic that is central to your main argument. Don’t waste this powerful technique on a dispensable topic.
A rich vocabulary gives you access to a wide selection of words, and let you play with the tone and rhythm of your sentences. The most obvious way to add variety to your writing is to avoid using the same words in your essays. Whether it’s verbs, adjectives, conjunctions, or transitional phrases—avoid using the same ones in one paragraph. Explore the English language! Make use of thesauruses and other writing tools to help you find the perfect words.
This is a great opportunity to bring up the rhythm. Rhythm is more than just a poetic element. No matter how scientific your paper is, it will always have a rhythm that both you and your reader subconsciously register. With this in mind, listen to your sentences out loud, and be attentive for words that don’t quite sound right with the rest of the sentence. Likewise, watch out for paragraphs that sound monotonous. Enhance the ring of those sentences!
Think about your favorite writers. How do they write? What makes them great writers in your opinion? Try to read their works once again and observe how they vary their sentences, or how they convey mood. On the other hand, you may also think about why you don’t enjoy some writers' works. What makes their work uninteresting or difficult to understand? If you could, you may even look at the way your professor writes. You may discuss it with them, treat them like a mentor—you may even develop a lasting friendship with your professor!
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