Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.
Fast, Easy and Fun
Think good writers are born that way? Wrong. Anyone can write better sentences if they follow a few simple rules and practice. As an experienced writing teacher, I find students almost immediately write better when they follow my five simple tips.
Tip #1 Write sentences that have different lengths.
Typically English sentences are 15-25 words. That is about one to two lines of print. Sentences of 10-40 words are the extremes. Your writing will sound much more professional and mature if you have a variety of sentence lengths. How can you do that?
- Look at each paragraph you've written. Are all the sentences about the same length? Combine a couple of them together to make at least one longer sentence.
- Do you have a lot of sentences that are just one line of type, or 15 words or less? You may need to combine more than two sentences.
- Maybe you have the opposite problem. Do you have a lot of sentences that are long? Over 30 words? If so, you may not be dividing your thoughts up as clearly as possible and doing run-on or fragment sentences or being wordy. First, go through your sentences and see if you have unnecessary words you can take out. Next, see if some of the sentences can be made into two separate sentences.
- The goal is to have a variety of lengths of sentences, some short, some medium and some long.
Tip #2 Start every sentence in a paragraph with a different word.
Ineffective writers often start several sentences in a paragraph with the same word. That is how we talk in English but putting what we say into writing makes us sound like poor writers. Your writing will sound much more professional if you pay attention to the first word in each sentence. No sentence in the same paragraph should start with the same word. Check by doing the following:
- Circle every first word in your paper.
- Look at the paper one paragraph at a time.
- When you see two sentences in a paragraph that start with the same word, re-word one of the sentences to change it.
- How do you re-word?
- Change the order of the words in a sentence.
- Change a sentence into a question, or combine sentences.
- Combine sentences (see video above).
- Add a transition word (see list below).
|Showing Contrast||Adding to an Idea||Showin Sequence|
as a result
first, second, third
for this reason
Tip #3 Use Appositives and Adjective phrases to pack information into a sentence
Appositives are when you have two interchangeable names for one person (example: Bernard, my brother, is a lawyer.). Commas set off the second “name.” Appositives which are adjective phrases are an easy way to include a lot of information in a short space
- Bernard, my youngest and most stylish brother, is a lawyer.
In those twelve words, I tell you his name, his relationship to me, his age (relative to me), a personality trait and his occupation. Since I’ve only used twelve words so far, I could easily add more information:
- Bernard, my youngest and most stylish brother, is a lawyer in Los Angeles, California, where all the girls are blondes and all their mothers are on Prozac.
You Try Rewriting!
Ready to practice? Rewrite the paragraph below. I've listed the sentences in a line to make it easier for you to see them. How much of this information can you pack into each single sentence? Can you use varied sentence types and lengths? Can you include some transition words? Can you combine sentences?
- Sally is my neighbor.
- Sally has long black hair and green eyes.
- Her eyes are big and vivacious.
- Sally's smile is infectious.
- I really like Sally because she is always looking out for someone who needs help.
- Sally never thinks someone is too unimportant to notice.
- I remember when Sally invited a homeless woman over for dinner.
- Sally spent time getting to know the homeless woman.
- The homeless woman's name was Barbara.
- Sally helped her get a job and an apartment.
- Sally changed Barbara's life.
- Sally and Barbara are now good friends.
- I wonder sometimes if I could be more like Sally.
Want to see my re-write? Check below!
My Rewrite: Can I Be Like Sally?
I really admire my neighbor, Sally, who has long black hair and big, an infectious smile, and vivacious green eyes that are always looking out for someone who needs help and never thinks someone is too unimportant to notice. For instance, I remember when she spent some time getting to know Barbara, a homeless woman who lived near where Sally worked. First, Sally invited Barbara to come home to dinner and spent time getting to know her. Later, she helped Barbara to get a job and an apartment. Sally's kindness changed Barbara's life and they continue to be good friends. Could I ever be as thoughtful as Sally?
Tip #4 Use Questions and Commands
While you do not want to overuse questions or commands, these types of sentences can occasionally be used to great effect. Questions and commands tend to be very short sentences, so they can also help vary the length and the rhythm of your writing. That makes it sound more interesting
Questions can often be used to start a paragraph and introduce the idea that your paragraph will answer.
- Do you understand how to write effective sentences now?
Commands are a great way to conclude your writing and tell your reader what you want them to do. Probably you won't want to use an exclamation with a command in a formal essay, but exclamation points do work in more informal writing like webpages or stories.
- Be sure to practice these rules in your writing!
Practice Makes You Stronger!
Tip #5 Practice Writing Every Day
When you play a sport, you become better the more you practice. The same is true about writing. So the first tip is to write a little bit every day. What can you do?
- Write school assignments and give more time to them or use these rules to revise them to have better-structured sentences.
- Write a note to a family member, a friend or a teacher. Tell them how much you appreciate them.
- Think about something you know how to do well. Write out the instructions for someone else.
- Keep a dream diary and write down what you remember.
- Start a short story or novel.
- Write down conversations you hear during your day, or imaginary conversations you have with someone else in your head.
- Start an autobiography and tell about your important early memories or funny things that happened to you.
- Journal in a notebook or on your computer your day or blog about your life. Use these rules as you write to revise your ideas and make them more linked together. Need ideas? Look at the list below for topics.
Recommended for You
26 Journal Topic ideas
- Pets: Why I like my pet. Which is better, cats or dogs? Why people should have a pet.
- Feelings: What makes me angry. How I feel today. What makes me feel content. What I do when I feel sad.
- Friends: What I admire about my best friend. What makes a good friend?
- Family: My idea of a perfect family. My favorite family vacation.
- Job: My dream job. My job history. My most embarrassing moment on the job. My worst job.
- Nature: Where I most love to go in nature. Why nature inspires me. Which is better, mountains, beach or desert? My favorite season of the year.
- Cars: My favorite car. My first car. How I like to drive. What drives me crazy while driving.
- Dreams: My craziest dream. The dream I have over and over. Nightmares.
You Can Improve!
The bottom line is that every writer can write effective sentences easily if you follow these simple rules. Try them and see!
Justine Mulenga from Zambia on June 25, 2018:
Very, very helpful.
Allison Kuntz on August 28, 2014:
This was very helpful to me because I tend to start all my sentences with the same words and it have me good resources and tips to not do that. This will make my writing much more effective and help become a better writer!
Sanjoy Das from Pune, India on July 17, 2013:
Very Informative! Thanks!
Brian Scott from United States on November 27, 2012:
I love your advice on paragraphs: use different lengths, and start with a different word to avoid redundancy.
andredavidson on September 10, 2012:
These tips seem awesome, I'm going to try to add some of these concepts next time i write an essay. I think it will help a lot. Thank You!
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on August 28, 2012:
Glad to help girlonfire!
girlonfire on August 28, 2012:
Easy yet effective tips! I am paying particular attention to the first tip when I work on my next article. Thank you.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on July 07, 2012:
Sriparna--Wow--900 characters is short! I actually find word limits to be much harder than any other sort of writing. Glad this will help.
Sriparna from New Delhi on July 07, 2012:
Good tips. In our school we need to write detailed student profiles limited to 900 characters. I still don't mind writing for each student, their characteristics, academics and co-curricular activities, but what puts me off is the word limit, which takes away a lot of my time to rephrase sentences. Your hub will be useful for writing short sentences with a lot of information. Thanks. Voted up!
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on June 30, 2012:
Thanks for stopping by again RTalloni--we've both gotten better in Hubbing as we've written more, I think!
RTalloni on June 28, 2012:
Great article to begin your hubbing with and now you have 180+
These are writing tips we need to keep in mind. Thanks much!
rabecker on October 16, 2011:
Thank you. Your tips and suggestions are very helpful.
Ben on August 31, 2011:
Thank you for the writing lesson. I thought it was very clear, and well written. Giving some of the best advise to date.
Good stuff :)