Word Nerd: 4 Secrets to Writing a Good Sentence

1 May

4 Secrets to Writing a Good Sentence

A good sentence is key to writing a respectable piece of prose – whether it’s a letter, an essay, or a novel. We can entertain ambitions about writing epic novels, or A-grade essays, but, without a good hold on this building block, our ambitions are likely to remain pipe dreams.

In this Word Nerd, we bring you 4 secrets to writing a good sentence. Remember these are not fixed rules but guidelines for developing your skill.

1. Know What You Want to Say

Sounds deceptively simple but, in the back of our minds, many of us think of writing as inspired. We feel that it’s like sitting in a boat on a stormy sea, at the mercy of the winds & waves, with little under our control.

But, for the most part, writing is like being on a hitchhiking trail. We need to know where to start, stop, and fix our milestones. And while we can expect surprises or challenges on the way, it takes good sense and preparedness to get us through.

Make writing a conscious effort. Get all your thoughts on paper (or the computer). Make diagrams, lists, and drafts. Once you know what you want to say, you will find the confidence and skill to say it.

2. Avoid Passive Voice

We can’t let this pass. Think of a sentence written in passive voice as a python with the reader as its victim. A coiling, constriction, and then death by asphyxiation.

Slow and boring.

Active voice is fundamental to good writing. And as a rule, it works for most of us.

“I threw the ball. Did Ann get hurt?” versus “The ball was thrown by me. Was Ann hurt by it?” (If Ann was, we suspect she might get medical attention in the time it took to frame that second sentence).

3. Make Every Word Count

Economy is a good rule of thumb when it comes to writing. How can we ensure clear and concise sentences?
Avoid redundancies (‘12 midnight’, ‘revert back’, ‘summarize briefly’). Avoid puffery, which includes hedge words (‘I think’, ‘I believe’ and ‘I feel’), filler words (‘actually’, ‘basically’, ‘naturally’), and intensifiers (‘very’, ‘extremely’, ‘quite’).

For example, “Rose is a beautiful girl” versus “I really think Rose is quite a beautiful girl”.
Read more in our Word Nerd here.

4. God is in the details

As a concept, the sentence offers limited space. So, be concrete. Details sharpen sentences. Use exact words, images and figures. “No ideas but in things” is not a maxim limited to poetry.

Another tip is to start and end a sentence with the words you want to emphasize. For example, “Even though the winters are long and cold, I love living in Michigan.” Or, “Maria had studied hard, so she scored an A.”

The faculty for paying close attention to detail comes only with practice.


Bonus tip: revise and rewrite. Whether it a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter or an entire book – we cannot make do without revision.

You would be surprised to know how many great writers struggle over early drafts of their writing. So, don’t be embarrassed if your first few constructions read poorly. Also, remember Robert Graves once said, “There is no such thing as good writing. Only good rewriting.”

Moral of the story: don’t be afraid to write and write until you get it right.

Are there any fundamental rules of good writing you would like to share with us?
Email us or leave a comment below.

Read more of Word Nerd here.

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Word Nerd: 5 Easy Guidelines For Writing Better

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