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Maximizing Meaning

5.0 Troubleshooting Sentences

1.0 Curing Wordiness 5.1 Sentence Variety

5.2 Handy Sentence Patterns

5.3 Focus and Emphasis

5.4 Building Transitions

5.5 Word Precision

2.0 Quick Grammar Review
3.0 Dissolving Writer's Block
4.0 Punctuation Guide
Spin Doctor's Web Design 101

Diagnosing and Curing Chronic Sentence Problems
Problem Solutions
Monotonous Sentences

Sentences all follow same pattern

Sentences sound boring out loud

Build Variety with Sentence Patterns:
adverbial clauses, participial phrases, compound verbs, appositives, adjective clauses

  • adverbial clauses: clause telling where, when, why, how; introduced by a word like before, after, until, although, because, while
  • participial phrases: phrase using -ing (or -ed) form of the verb
  • compound verbs: several verbs performed by a single subject in a sentence
  • appositives: noun further describing another noun
Sentences all begin with subject

Same subject recurs

Nancy worked for the state of Vermont.
She travelled all over Vermont.
She met many concerned citizens.
They began to trust her.
They told her a lot about each lake and about the local political scene.
She devised a program to monitor water quality.
She trained lay people to take samples.
She prepared a study.

Sentence patterns: adverbial clauses, participial phrases, compound verbs

Nancy worked for the state of Vermont, travelling all over the state and meeting many concerned citizens. Once they began to trust her, they told her a lot about each lake and about the local political scene. She devised a program to monitor water quality, trained lay people to take samples, and prepared a study.

Errors in Word Choice and Predication

Subject and Verb Don't Match

Vague and Abstract Verbs:
generic "catch-all" verbs (have, make do), and verbs of existence or mental action

Nancy is experienced. She studies lakes. She works for the state of Vermont.
The study was prepared by Nancy.
Nancy's study was interesting.

Modifier placement, appositives, active voice, vivid verbs:

Nancy, an experienced limnologist, works for the state of Vermont.
Nancy prepared a study of Vermont's lakes.
Nancy's study seized the attention of the state government.

Also read what George Orwell had to say about word choice.

Sentence lacks emphasis

She gave $500,000 to the campaign committee.

Put most important elements in opening and closing positions.

Her $500,000 donation made the campaign manager's day.

Weak transitions

Sentences sound choppy out loud

Build Bridges

1. Identify the most important parts of each sentence;
2. Place those elements in a logical sequence and regroup them into sentences;
3. Express the precise relationship between the parts, and between sentences:

  • cause/effect?
  • for example?
  • therefore?
  • on the other hand?

4. Try to vary the length and structure of your sentences by playing with the patterns listed above.

Maximizing MeaningGeorge Orwell's
advice
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