Writing Effective Sentences in Your English Essay

Updated on May 4, 2016
VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne has been a University English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

Effective Writing

1. Has interesting ideas.

2.Uses transition words to link ideas.

3. Convinces the reader with logic.

4. Uses interesting language.

5. Is carefully edited and proof-read.

6. Uses punctuation correctly.

How to Write Better Essays

Students often ask me how they can become better writers. In one word: practice. Writing effectively is an art and a discipline. When you play a sport, you become better the more you practice. The same is true about writing.

However, just as a coach can give you hints to make your practice more effective, a writing instructor can fill you in on the hints about how to write more effectively. There are some rules you can learn about how to make your sentences emphasize the ideas you think are most important. Here are a few of the best hints. If you memorize them and use these ideas as you revise the sentences in your essay, your writing will be more effective.

Can a Computer Program Help Writing?

Spell checkers and grammar checkers can help you write correct sentences, but not necessarily effective ones.
Spell checkers and grammar checkers can help you write correct sentences, but not necessarily effective ones. | Source

1. Make Your Subjects and Verbs Interesting

Use Subjects and Verbs to state the key actors and actions

  • Don't Say: The intention of the company was to expand its workforce.
  • Instead say: The company intended to expand its workforce.

Use strong Verbs (avoid passive voice)

Try to get away from is, am, was were, made, been

  • Don't Say: The company is now the leader …Its officers make speeches…
  • Instead say: The company now leads in compliance…Its officers speak
  • Don't say: The 1990 law is seen as fair….costs have been exaggerated
  • Instead say: Businesses see the 1990 law as fair, opponents have exaggerated

2. Vary Sentence Types

Effective writers use a variety of types of sentences to keep the reader interested in what they are reading. Here are some of the different ways to write English sentences:

1. Use Transition Words to connect ideas in sentences. Pay attention to how you begin and end your sentences. Use sentence beginnings and endings to cue readers about your most important point

Readers expect what they already know to be at the beginning of a sentence and new information at the end. One way to put this is that the beginning of the sentence or paragraph should transition/show relationship of a new idea to what you've said previously.

Everyone knows that teachers earn low wages. In spite of meager salaries, most teachers report great satisfaction with their jobs; however, most teachers quit after five years. Is this high turnover rate caused by the fact that the profession is dominated by women? No one knows for sure but statistics indicate---

2. Use Cumulative sentences: start with the main idea and then add modifiers to amplify or illustrate it.

  • Mary Morrison became a teacher because she wanted to open minds, instill values and create new opportunities for students who lived in poor, inner-city housing projects.

3. Use Periodic sentences: start with the modifiers and put the main idea at the end.

  • Blowing roofs off buildings, knocking down many trees, and severing power lines, the storm caused extensive damage.

Use a variation of the periodic sentence which has: subject, modifiers, verb.

  • Raul Martinez, who works in jeans and loafers and likes to let a question cure in the air before answering it, never fit in with the corporate environment.

4. Use Balanced Sentences: two main clauses which are parallel in their structure are put together. This often works is the two clauses have a contrasting meaning.

  • The fickleness of the women I love is equaled only by the infernal constancy of the women who love me. (Shaw)
  • If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. (George Orwell)

5. Use different lengths of sentences. Most English sentences are 1-2 times of printed type. Make your sentences more interesting by having some sentences which are very short, and a few that are longer.

6. Use Occasional Questions? Exclamations! or Commands. Don't overdo this one, but it can be very effective to occasionally use one of these sorts of sentences to speak more directly to your reader.

Avoid editing on a phone

Although many of us are getting used to writing on iPhones, smartphones and tablets, using a bigger screen allows you to see your sentences more easily
Although many of us are getting used to writing on iPhones, smartphones and tablets, using a bigger screen allows you to see your sentences more easily | Source

3. Use Lists in Sentences Effectively

When you start to write longer sentences, you often run into the problem of how to write a long list of items. To make your sentences effective, you need to make sure you keep the items in the list in the same form. That is called "parallelism," like when two lines run next to each other without crossing. Here is what you need to remember:

1. A series of phrases linked by commas and “and,” “or” or “but” need to be written using the same format (examples: all start with an "ing" word; all start with “to—”; all start with a past tense verb).

  • (ing)The horse was running across the meadow, jumping over the bridge and racing to the finish line.
  • (to)To run across the meadow, jump over the bridge and race to the finish line was the horse’s task.
  • (past tense verb)The horse ran across the meadow, jumped over the bridge and raced to the finish line.

2. The information is listed in either chronological order, like in the horse example, or in topical order, from least to most important.

  • Don't Say: The storm severed power lines, killed two people and blew the roof off ten houses.
  • Instead say: The storm blew the roof off ten houses, severed power lines and killed two people.

Easy English Sentence Structure

Conjunction Quiz

Which conjunction do you like to use the most?

See results

4. Use the Right Conjunction

In English, we often put two ideas together in a sentence in this form:

main clause, conjunction main clause.

Effective sentences are careful to use the right conjunction to show whether you mean to add an idea (and), contrast an idea (but, or, yet), or show cause or comparison (so, for, as). Here is a list of the most common conjunctions and their meanings:

  • AND—adds one to the other (both—and, not only---but also)
  • BUT, YET—substitutes one idea for the other; contrasts ideas (not---but)
  • OR---shows two alternatives (either—or,)
  • SO, FOR----makes one cause the other
  • AS---comparing/simile
  1. Jeremy writes books for St. Martins, so he doesn't have time to help you on your novel.
  2. What happened to Emily was a mystery, and no one ever saw her in Stockton again.
  3. Will Jeremy take English again to improve his grade, or will he be happy with a "C" ?
  4. Helga completed the paper ahead of time, yet she still did an excellent job of revising all of her grammar errors.

Transition Words

Add: also, furthermore,

Emphasis: indeed, in fact, undoubtedly

Compare and contrast: however, instead, nevertheless, otherwise, similarly

Cause and effect: accordingly, as a result, consequently

Time: next, meanwhile, thereafter

5. Use Semicolons and Transition Words

A semi-colon combines to separate sentences into one. Using a semicolon emphasizes the importance of that sentence, so use a semi-colon sentence sparingly because it makes a sentence seem more important. I often suggest my students use a semi-colon sentence in their thesis.

Many students don't know how to use a semi-colon correctly, but it is actually very easy. Here are the two main ways to use it:

1. main clause; main clause (don’t overdo this one): In this sort of sentence, you just take out the period and put in a semicolon:

  • Helping people is my job; I don’t ask for gratitude.
  • Never underestimate the power of a baby; they can make the most solemn people look like idiots.

2. Semicolon using a transition word. The advantage of using this form of the semi-colon sentence is that the transition word explains the relationship between the two parts of the sentence:

Main clause; transition (conjunctive adverb), main clause

  • Whenever Jason looked in the mirror he had his doubts; however, he still pretended he believed Melissa’s comment that he was the best-looking man she’d ever met.
  • His parents and friends tried to dissuade him from dating her; consequently, he was all the more determined not to break up.

Peer Edit for Effective Writing

After you have finished your essay, have someone else read it.  Have them mark sentences which are not as clear or effective.
After you have finished your essay, have someone else read it. Have them mark sentences which are not as clear or effective. | Source

6. Emphasize Important Ideas

Along with showing how ideas relate, you also need to show which ideas are the most important. That is where "subordination" comes in. Subordination shows:

  1. One idea is less important than another (hey, not everyone can be top dog). Not that the information isn't needed but that it isn't the main idea. Subordination helps you keep the main ideas clear. It also helps you to show how other ideas relate to the main point (Were they the cause? The result? Do they tell the time? The place? The purpose? Do they describe or identify?).
  2. No rules tell you which idea should be the main clause and which the subordinate one: the decision depends on upon your meaning. Usually details of time, cause, condition, purpose, and identification are subordinate to action.

Kinds of subordinate parts of sentences:

Subordinate clauses may be a main clause which starts with a word which turns it into an incomplete phrase. They might also start with a relative pronoun (which, that, what, whatever, who, whoever) Subordinate clauses are longer and more important than the other types.

  • Although the horse looked gentle, it proved hard to manage.
  • Whenever forecasters predict a mild winter, farmers hope for an early spring.
  • Even though she wrote voraciously, she never published.
  • Because she spoke haltingly, she could never face speaking in front of a crowd.

Subordinate phrases include appositives which rename a noun (her son, Frank,) prepositional phrases such as “in” or “on.” or verbal phrases (either ing or “to” form of a verb (walking into the room, to walk into the room,).

  • My brother, Gerald, is a lawyer who works for First American, a title insurance company.
  • Having been jobless for six months, Jones could not pay his bills.
  • To pay the rent, he borrowed from his father.
  • Jumping over the fence, the horse fell into the water.
  • To jump over a fence, the horse must be strong.
  • Groomed, stabled and rested, the horse felt better.
  • In the morning, we like to fish by the lake.
  • Sitting by the lake, we fish every morning.

Avoid these common problems with Subordination:

1. The less important idea is made into the main clause:

  • Don't Write: Mrs. Angelo was in her first year of teaching, although she was a better instructor than others with more experience.
  • Instead, Say: Although Mrs. Angelo was in her first year of teaching, she was a better instructor than others with more experience.

2. Ideas are not logically linked; wrong subordinating word is used.

  • Don't say: Because the horse looked gentle, it was hard to manage.
  • Instead, say: Although the horse looked gentle, it was hard to manage.
  • Don't Say: As the experiment was occurring, the laboratory was sealed.
  • Instead, Say: When the experiment (time) or Because the experiment (cause)

© 2013 Virginia Kearney


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    • Jorge Kwyntin profile image

      Jorge Kwyntin 6 months ago

      Thank you so much Ms.Kearney for the valuable article. Even people from any part of the world, who are not majored in English can improve their writing skills by following brilliant stuff like this.

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      aditi 12 months ago

      i think it really helps.thank u.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 3 years ago from United States

      Aesta--Writing effective sentences is a continuing project for all writers, no matter what level of ability. They say that James Joyce would sometimes spend a whole day working on 7 words of his novel! Of course the rest of us can spend that much time trying to figure out what those 7 words mean, so perhaps that isn't the most effective way to reach an audience! However, continually trying new patterns, and learning more about how sentences are put together creatively can help any writer get better.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Writing effective sentences is at the core of writing an excellent article. How clearly the ideas are expressed when sentences are well put together. I wish I have mastery of the use of conjunctions. Given that I like to write, I need to hone my skills in its use.

    • ziyena profile image

      ECLECTIC PLETHORA 4 years ago from LOST IN TIME

      Great article! I can definitely put some of these tips to use ... though I pride myself with creative writing, it is unfortunate that I've always lacked the fundamentals of Grammar technique. I do try! Thanks for this and voting UP

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      Elysia LeMay 4 years ago

      This article was very informative! Thanks for the great tips and I will definitely keep these in mind when writing my next essay!

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      Kyle Christensen 4 years ago

      Definitely going to keep these tips in mind while writing an essay for you! I mean if I do the things you say in here, I can't possibly fail!

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      Christopher Anderson 4 years ago

      I have always wondered how I could better improve my writing, I will for sure be using all these tips on my essays this year. Thank you Mrs. Kearney for the advice.

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      Michael Alonso 4 years ago

      Hi Mrs. Kearney! This is a helpful article, I will definitely try some of these!

    • profile image

      Janessa Holles 4 years ago

      All of this information is very helpful and useful! I didn't realize how thought provocative the process of forming a well written sentence is. I really enjoyed the section about semi-colons because I know I do not use them correctly. Another section that really stuck out to me was having the main idea stick out. I find myself most of the time putting the main idea at the beginning instead of making it interesting. I will definitely be coming back and reading this article when I write my next essay!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Congratulations on your HOTD award. Your article totally deserves. Good lessons for us writers, Voted Up!

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the tip. I always tell my students to proofread me the same way I proofread them! It is so easy to make small errors when typing and reading from a screen. Which brings me to one of my best tips for final editing: print you paper and read it aloud. I often catch lots of errors that way! Unfortunately that is hard to do with online editing tools but you are reminding me that I should at least read aloud!

    • cheeluarv profile image

      cheeluarv 4 years ago from INDIA

      Very useful hub.For the beginners like me it is a eye-opener.

    • erorantes profile image

      Ana Maria Orantes 4 years ago from Miami Florida

      I like your article. Ms. Virginia; you did a good job. Congratulation for your hub of the day.

    • wildove5 profile image

      wildove5 4 years ago from Cumberland, R.I.

      Oh how I wish I had paid more attention in school as a young lad; I'm sure I have broken many of the grammar rules mentioned above. "Oh my, did I use the semi colon properly?" I did however notice the use of the word 'to' was used incorrectly in the body of your work. Sorry, it's a little pet peeve of mine. I'm sure it was just a typo, but thought I'd have a little fun with you! I will definitely cross reference this hub before publishing my next hub. I learned quite a bit. Now I'm off to practice! Congrats on Hub of the day! Voted up!

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      Sooner28 4 years ago

      Great advice!

    • Londonlady profile image

      Laura Writes 4 years ago

      This hub is a pretty good summary of several really important things I learned all throughout high school and even my advanced writing courses in college! Definitely voted this up.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Really helpful grammar tips. We often take grammar rules for granted. I know I do, and this was a kind, friendly reminder to help us polish our craft. Thanks!

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      This is an awesome hub and it certainly deserves "Hub of the Day" honors. This hub is so useful that I am bookmarking it for future reference. I know it will be a handy reference for me when teaching writing. It will also help me become a better writer. I found the information about use of the semicolon especially interesting. Voted up and sharing with followers and on Facebook. Also Pinning and Tweeting.

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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      You definitely deserve the HOTD award for this great article. Voted up and pinned. This is full of the kind of information that I like to refer my students to. Thanks!!!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Congrats on HOTD. Very useful information. It was so familiar both for me when I took my journalism classes as a student years ago and as a teacher until a few years ago. Great info.

      Angels are on the way ps

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      Doodlehead--you are too funny!

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      Great observation janderson99. You've noticed I am using another effective sentence strategy I don't talk about. Sometimes in English we use short sentences for effect or drama. Those sentences will often resemble speech and may not contain all of the "proper elements." You will see writers in magazines and novels use these sorts of sentences all the time. However, I would caution you about using non-standard sentences in English Essays. Sometimes your instructor wants to make sure you understand the rules and won't allow it.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      This is one to keep and a well deserved HOTD.


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      Doodlehead 4 years ago from Northern California

      Like CarlySullens I need this hub. I will try to bond with this hub. This will be my Hub Cap.

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      Michelle Widmann 4 years ago

      Thank you! I found this hub to be very helpful and full of useful tips. I didn't catch on to how to write a very effective essay until the final year of my English degree. I wish I'd read this a few years ago.

    • starbright profile image

      Lucy Jones 4 years ago from Scandinavia

      Brilliant hub. Congrats on the HOTD - very well deserved. Thanks for sharing.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      Thanks everyone! I am traveling outside the U.S. now and was completely surprised to find I'd gotten the Hub of the Day. I started writing these articles originally for my own students, but have found they are useful to others and that makes me very happy.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      Zeusspeak--thanks for the help on spelling corrections! I definitely think you are quite right about language use as being related to country. My writing classes are taught in the United States for students who are primarily from the U.S. Those students from other countries usually are hoping to be taught standard U.S. style writing and diction. One of the reasons English has taken over as an international language is because it is so very adaptably. However, learning a standard "high class" American or British English diction is helpful to anyone who is trying to be taken seriously in business or education.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Virginia, what an incredible article! I found it useful and will share. Of all the articles that have won HOTD, yours has to be one of my all time favs!

      Voted up and away


    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Awesome info! I'm an English Composition teacher. This would be a great, comprehensive review for all my students! Congrats on HOTD!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      Very good stuff. :)

      Thanks for sharing helpful information by putting this guide together so well. Congrats on your Hub of the Day award--well deserved!

      Pinning to my Writing:… board and going to check out your profile page for more of your latest work.

    • CarlySullens profile image

      CarlySullens 4 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

      Congratulations on HOTD! I love this hub. I need this hub. I am bookmarking this hub. :)

      I especially like the examples. It is one thing to explain it, it is another to show it. People learn differently, and the best way to teach is to demonstrate through different methods. You did that here.

      Voted up and shared.

    • ComfortB profile image

      Comfort Babatola 4 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

      You were very detailed in your writing of this hub, giving not only examples, but instances. Very useful indeed. Voted up, and congrats on the HOTD award.

    • zeusspeak profile image

      Celina Martin 4 years ago from London

      Virginia, the hub was good, but even you committed mistake. Instead of conjunction, you have used conjuntion at two places that too in the headings. Leaving aside these glitches, the hub was quite informative and loved reading it.

      Virginia, but the language use is a relative concept. It may change with region or country. Therefore, we cannot have a global constant as such. What do you think about this?

    • janderson99 profile image

      Dr. John Anderson 4 years ago from Australia on Planet Water

      Well Done. Excellent.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      Thanks Ron! You know I have put this information together and yet in my own writing I need to continually remind myself to think about what my reader wants to know rather than what I want to tell them!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      What a great amount of useful information! My first takeaway was, "Readers expect what they already know to be at the beginning of a sentence and new information at the end." I'll be thinking for a while about what that means for my writing. Thanks!