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How to Vary Sentence Structure

How to Vary Sentence Structure

Author: Alex Seydow

In this learning packet you will how to structure your sentences in order to sound more interesting and professional. You will learn the principles of end-weight and old to new information and how to employ these principles using three different techniques.

This packet includes text and video which teaches you how to vary your sentence structure. The video includes many different examples and practice questions.

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How to Vary Your Sentence Structure and Sound Like a Professional Writer

This video explains three techniques to vary your sentence structure. It includes many examples and practice questions.

How to sound like a professional writer

Do you want your papers to sound less BORING and more PROFESSIONAL?  

Writing involves choices.  There are several principles that writers follow in order to make their papers sound more interesting.  Consider the following choices that writers make:

Choice 1: How do I want my information to flow?

Academic papers will often move from given to new information. This means that most sentences begin with information that the reader presumably already knows because the information was mentioned in the previous sentence or paragraph.  The given, or old, information occurs in the sentence initial position.  New information is placed at the end of the sentence in the final position.  

Organizing your sentences from old information to new information serves two purposes: it makes a connection to the previous sentence or paragraph and shifts the focus. Check out the video in this packet to learn different ways to organize your sentences.


Choice 2: How much do my sentences weigh?

Leave the heavy stuff for the end!  Good writers consider the weight of their sentences.  They never start their sentences with long, complex bits of information.  It's better to move complex clauses and large vocabulary words to the end of the sentence.  This is called end weight.  It's easier to read papers which are written in this way.  Would you want to read a paper that started like this:

The fact that California has the largest population of any state in the United States is why it has the most representatives in legislation.

Doesn't this sound better: California has the most representatives in legislation because it has the largest population of any state in the United States. 

Choice 3: Active vs. Passive Voice

Remember your teachers telling you to always write in the active voice?  Well, to be frank, they were wrong or at least misguided. Many professional writers use the passive voice.  The trick is to use it intelligently.  So why would you use the passive voice?  There are several good reasons.  

For one, it may not matter who did the action in the sentence or the writer can assume the reader already knows who performed the action.  In this case, the sentence may omit the doer completely and use the passive voice without the by phrase at the end (a by phrase identifies the doer of the action such as "the cup was washed by Debbie.")

Let's look at the following example which is written in passive voice: "A president is elected every four years."

In this sentence, we have omitted the agent.  If we had included the agent, the sentence would look like this: "A president is elected every four years by voters."

Does it matter that voters elect the president?  It's safe to assume that people living in the United States know that voters elect the president. The by phrase may also be omitted because the writer does not want to assign blame.  This is often found in news reports.  For example, "Mistakes were made."

A writer may also choose to write in the passive voice in order to move from old to new information (see choice 2).  The passive voice moves the agent to the end of the sentence.  So if the agent, or doer, is surprising or interesting in some way, the writer may move this information to the end of the sentence by using the passive voice.  For example, "The veteran champion was beaten by a fourteen year old rookie from Iowa."  

Finally, the passive voice can help a writer to follow the principle of end weight.  If the agent of the sentence is a long and complex noun phrase, the writer may choose to push this information to the end of the sentence by using the passive voice.  For example, "The money was donated by a wealthy doctor from North Carolina who has supported the charity for many years."  


Check out the video "How to Vary Your Sentence Structure and Sound Like a Professional Writer" for more information.  Good luck writing!