Writing Style Tips: Word and Sentence Variety
An effective piece of writing requires more than just good ideas and content: Effective writing also has style.
Writing style refers to the way the writer uses words and structures sentences to establish mood and meaning. Elements of writing style include sentence arrangement, sentence structure, word choice, figurative language, and voice.
In this article, we’ll focus on using word and sentence variety to add some style to your writing.
What Is Sentence Variety, and Why Is It Important?
Sentence variety means including a mix of short and long sentences in your writing. It makes your writing flow better and keeps it from being repetitive and boring.
Take a look at these two non-examples:
Word variety is important. Sentence variety is important too. Variety helps keep your reader engaged. You don’t want your reader to be bored. Use some sentences that are long. Use some sentences that are short.
How did you feel reading that paragraph? Probably bored, since it was boring to write too! The problem with this paragraph is that all of the sentences are short. It makes the paragraph repetitive, choppy, and dull.
How about this one?
In order to compose a piece of writing that engages your reader, it’s essential to use variety in both your words and your sentences. To incorporate sentence variety into your next piece of writing, try to use both long and short sentences, in addition to varying your word choice. If your paper lacks variety, it won’t be compelling for your reader, who will get bored and possibly even stop reading, so make sure that you include plenty of variety.
That paragraph wasn’t much better. This time, the problem was that all of the sentences were long, with multiple clauses. Not only can that get repetitive and boring, but it can sometimes confuse readers too.
Let’s try one more time:
In order to keep your reader engaged, it’s a good idea to vary both words and sentences. Too many short sentences make your writing choppy and dull, while too many long sentences can cause confusion and boredom. Instead, try to find a balance between both short and long sentences. Your readers will thank you!
This paragraph used a combination of short and long sentences. As a result, it was much easier to read, and more engaging too. You may also notice that the above paragraph has much more voice and personality than the other two.
Next time you work on a piece of writing, pay attention to sentence variety. Changing up the length and rhythm of your sentences will result in a paper that flows better and keeps your reader engaged.
What About Word Variety?
Word variety means avoiding unnecessarily repeating words. Check out the paragraph below:
Today was a really great day. I went to the store and bought some really cute new shoes, ate some really good ice cream with my friends, and watched my favorite show on Netflix. I was really disappointed that the season ended on a cliffhanger, but of course that just makes me really excited for next season!
In this paragraph, the word really is really overused. It makes it seem like the writer doesn’t have a very expansive vocabulary. The word “really” is also repetitive to the point of being distracting and taking away from the rest of the paragraph.
When you revise your writing, pay attention to repetition. Do you use the same word more than once or twice within a few sentences? Is the word necessary? Is there another word you could use instead?
Many writers particularly fall into this trap with sentence openers. Read over your paper and see how many of your sentences start with words like, “The,” “It,” or, “I.” If your use of these sentence openers seems excessive, try revising.
Take a look at this sentence, for example:
The biggest surprise on my birthday was a visit from my favorite cousin Jessica, who lives in England.
We could change the opening of this sentence in several different ways, including:
- On my birthday, the biggest surprise was a visit from my favorite cousin Jessica, who lives in England.
- My favorite cousin Jessica, who lives in England, surprised me by visiting on my birthday.
- To my surprise, my favorite cousin Jessica, who lives in England, visited on my birthday.
- Although she lives in England, my favorite cousin Jessica visited on my birthday to surprise me.
And these are just a few of the many ways you could revise the sentence. Varying your sentence openers also varies the rhythm and length of your sentences, further contributing to your paper’s style.
Next time you work on a piece of writing, consider your word and sentence variety.
Use a combination of short and long sentences to give your writing more fluency and voice. Your readers will be more engaged, and your ideas will be clearer.
Also, pay attention to word repetition. If you find yourself using the same word repeatedly, try deleting if possible, or replacing it with an alternative if not. Pay particular attention to sentence openers. Avoid overusing openers like, “It,” “I,” and “The.”
As a result, your vocabulary will be varied and stronger, your ideas will flow better, and your readers will want to read more.
WriteLab brings together Natural Language Processing, Artificial Intelligence, and English Language Instruction. Student writing is analyzed in seconds with the WriteLab app—giving students feedback and suggestions on how to revise and polish their draft.