10 Tips to Write Better Sentences

updated on 30 June 2021

Focus on writing sentences. Why not focus on the paragraph, section, or the document as a whole? Because your job as a writer is to write sentences. Your other jobs include rewriting sentences, removing sentences, and rearranging sentences.

All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know. - Ernest Hemingway

Tip 1: Write the sentence

Research and explore all the elements that make up your subject.

Sit back from the keyboard and think. Imagine a sentence in its entirety before typing it. 

Begin with any sentence that interests you. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to say?” The answer to this question is often the sentence you need to write down.

Tip 2: Shorten the sentence

It's easier to write a short sentence with clarity and directness. It’s also easier to detect and remove ambiguity. How short is short? That depends on the length of the sentences you normally write.

Writing is selection. You need to leave out more than you keep. Say only one thing in a sentence.

To make short sentences, remove every unnecessary word. Imagine each word disappearing and see what’s lost or gained. Every word is optional until it proves otherwise.

Separate out sentences joined with conjunctions. Remove relative pronouns, subordinate clauses, cliches, jargons, and phrases. 

Tip 3: Use active voice

Adjust the sentence so it’s the subject that performs the action of the verb. Active voice shapes the sentence in a way that maximizes clarity.

Put the subject and verb close to the beginning of the sentence. The sentence is easier to read. Occasionally, when you want to build suspense to the main thought, put the subject toward the end.

Remove any passive constructions. Try to replace variants of “to be”—“is,” “are,” “were,” “was,” and so on with more active verbs.

When readers read an active verb like grab, raised, etc, the verb activates the part of the brain responsible for that movement. The readers brain responds as if they're actually feeling cold or sneezing. When you read verbs like is and has, no corresponding brain activity occurs.

Choose a simpler noun and a stronger verb. Let verbs power your writing.

Tip 4: Rewrite the sentence

Write sentences that seem complete. Leave it aside for sometime. Return to it as a stranger and find flaws in it. Turn the sentence around. Examine it from odd angles.

Hidden inside a bad sentence is often a good one. Work word by word until you find it.

Rewrite the sentence to make it more tighter, clearer, and more literal. Keep rewriting until you find the rhythm and voice that suits what you're saying.

Tip 5: Read the sentence aloud

Read the words of the sentence as though they were meant to be spoken plainly to a listener. A good sentence often sounds spoken. Try to make it sound like you. Or, a little better.

You might hear problems that you don't see. You’ll feel a subtle disturbance inside you.

Listen for rhythm. Rhythm is the source of your authority.

Tip 6: Vary sentences

Variation is the life of prose, in length and in structure.

List all your sentences in a column, one below the other. Examine which words appear at the beginning, middle, and end. Find sameness and uniformity, and work against it.

Tip 7: Check the grammar

You don’t need to be a grammar wiz to write good sentences. Try to revisit parts of speech, verb tenses, participles and their role as modifiers, and prepositions. 

Correct grammar helps you be sure that your sentences say what you think they say.

Tip 8: Think about the reader

Instead of asking “Who is the reader?” Ask “Who am I to the reader?” 

Rework the sentence as if you wrote it for a friend. You write more informally. You remember to use contractions. You trust that the reader will fill in the gaps. You could write for the reader in yourself. What interests you will also interest your reader. 

What can you expect the reader to know? How much do you need to explain? Your sentence is understood based on what the reader knows about writing and what the reader knows about the subject that you’re writing about. Try not to over-describe. Let the reader share the burden of comprehension.

Tip 9: Decide it’s done

Sentences are never complete, only abandoned. “Done” isn’t absolute. It’s a compromise. It’s an assurance within yourself. Knowing how far to push a sentence and when to let it go depends on your experience of completeness.

Your final fix will likely take you by surprise. Feeling like it was inherent all along.

Tip 10: Work hard

Accept the basic truth about writing. It’s hard work. The difficulty you feel isn’t a sign of your inability as a writer. It’s been hard work for everyone all along.

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