LONG – SHORT – VARIETY

Yesterday’s editing tasks may take a couple of days; you might even want to walk away from the piece for a day or so. This allows you a fresh look at your writing.

SENTENCE LENGTH

Think back to when you were beginning to read. Every sentence was short and concise. I learned to read with the Dick and Jane basal readers. These, for adult readers, can be tedious.

See Dick. See Dick run. Run, Dick, run. (See what I mean. Short, staccato sentences.)

On the other end of the spectrum, excessively long winded sentences can also be exhausting to read. Many times these sentences can be found in “brainiac” scientific journals. (Sometimes in fiction by the old masters as well.)

Although Sally completed her paper on the importance of the integration of music in the education of a well-rounded student, she failed to secure the position of key-note speaker at the educational conference because she did not make the deadline for submission; in addition to that, she failed to follow the rest of the submission guidelines.

SENTENCE STRUCTURE VARIETY

In school you probably learned about the different types of sentence structures; and if you are like many people, you have probably forgotten them. The use of a variety of sentence structures can aid in the variety of sentence lengths.

SIMPLE SENTENCE: A simple sentence contains a subject and its verb. It is also important to note that either the subject or the verb or both can contain more than one element. In the following examples, the red words are the subjects and the blue words are the verbs.

Sally baked a cake.

Sally and Julie baked a cake.

Sally baked and frosted a cake.

Sally and Julie baked and frosted a cake.

COMPOUND SENTENCE: A compound sentence is one that contains two (or more) simple sentences. The two simple sentences are joined by a comma and a conjunction (and – but – or – nor – yet – so – for). The green words are conjunctions.

Sally baked a cake, and Julie frosted it.

Sally baked a cake, but Julie frosted it.

Sally baked a cake, Julie frosted it, and Kathy delivered it.

COMPLEX SENTENCE: In a complex sentence, you need a simple sentence and a sentence (for ease of explanation) that begins with a subordination conjunction (words like: because – since – while) There are a number of subordinating conjunctions. Here is a list. The pink words are subordinating conjunctions.

After Sally baked a cake, Julie frosted it.

Julie frosted the cake after Sally baked it.

NOTE: If the subordinating conjunction begins the sentence, a comma is needed to separate it and the simple sentence it is connected to from the actual simple sentence. If the subordinating conjunction comes after the actual simple sentence, there is no comma.

COMPOUND/COMPLEX SENTENCE: This is a combination of both the compound sentence and the complex sentence. There are many variations to this structure.

After Sally baked a cake, Julie frosted, and Kathy delivered it.

VARIETY OF SENTENCE BEGINNINGS

Before I retired from teaching English, I used to have a handout that identified 23 different ways to begin a sentence. I can’t find the handout, but here are some ideas, other than the standard subject or subordinating conjunction.

#1: PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE

On the door, Karen hung a wreath.

#2: PARTICIPIAL PHRASE

Typing late at night, Jake tried to finish his research paper.

#3:USE A TRANSITIONAL WORD

First, Sally gathered the ingredients for the cake.

Here is a link to several others.

TECHNIQUE TO ANALYZE YOUR SENTENCE STRUCTURE

This is probably the least painful editing task a writer can undertake. You can either create a template on a spreadsheet or on a sheet of paper.

The first column label “the first five words,” and the second column label “number of words.”

Read the first sentence and write the first five words down. Then, count the number of words in that sentence and write the number down.

Read the next sentence and write the first five words down directly under the those from the first sentence, and then, record the word count for the sentence.

Continue this with each sentence.

Now, take a look at the beginning words. If you find two in a row almost exactly the same, it is time to restructure the sentence.

Look at the number of words for each sentence. There should be a variety with some sentences having a relatively low number of words off-set by sentences with a greater number of words. Shoot for a rhythm in your length.

After a while, you will be able to analyze the beginnings of sentences and the length of sentences without charting the information. It helps, however, in the beginning to see what your writing looks like.

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