Has your writing ever been described as a “choppy?” Does your website or blog feel “dense”? Do you wish your copy had “flow”? Then you need to examine your boundaries.
Your sentence boundaries that is.
Let’s talk about the types of sentences you’re using, and how you can manipulate them so your reader can move through your text easily.
First, a quick review. There are 4 sentence types in English, based on two types of clauses. A clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb. Independent clauses express a complete thought. Dependent clauses don’t.
While I was walking to the store, I almost got hit by a bus.
Dependent clause: While I was walking to the store. SUBJECT: I. VERB: was walking.
Independent clause: I almost got hit by a bus. SUBJECT: I. VERB: got hit.
If you’re writing on the web, get familiar with FANBOYS. FANBOYS are the 7 coordinating conjunctions:
For And Not But Or Yet So
And if you find them, and if what follow is a complete thought (aka an independent clause), you should start a new sentence.
*Myth: you can’t start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. I just did. And if you find them …
People like transitions. Keep the coordinating conjunction. But start a new sentence. Because when people read on the internet, they like short, simple sentences.
Now, if you’re writing documents offline, you can keep the coordinating conjunction. That’s called a compound sentence. (Just remember to add a comma.)
But whether you’re writing online or offline, remember to include complex sentences too. Complex sentences allow for a more subtle arrangement of ideas. That’s because dependent clauses are just that, dependent on other ideas for their meaning. So when we use a relative pronoun or a subordinating conjunction, we are telling our reader that this idea is not so important as the others around it. Compare:
The judge has not yet ruled in the case, but we are already preparing our appeal.
Although the judge has not yet ruled in the case, we are already preparing our appeal.
In the second sentence, we are pointing the reader to the most important bit of information – our appeal. We’ve done that by subordinating the less important idea, the judge’s ruling. That’s the power of dependent clauses.
By consciously combining sentences into more complicated structures, we can show more complex relationships between ideas, vary our prose – giving it rhythm, harmony, and balance – and thereby demonstrate how talented we really we are.
Make a conscious effort to have at least one compound-complex sentence per page, at least one complex sentence per paragraph, and no more than three independent clauses in a row. Remember, variety: the spice of life, and prose.