Over the last year we’ve looked at the mechanics of what makes a good sentence. We know that it will use clauses correctly. We know it will probably be written in the active voice. And we know how to use commas, so it actually makes sense. In a nutshell, we’ve looked at how to write sentences correctly.
This month, to celebrate Outwrite’s revamped look, we’re going to think about how to write sentences well.
There are thousands of tips out there for writing powerful sentences, far too many to fit in one blog. So, I’ve homed in on two that can help you make a great statement. Read on to see what they are…
Aim for eloquence
“Eloquence” might seem an intimidating word. It’s often applied to people who are exceptionally capable with words, like Barack Obama. But it has a simple meaning; to write or speak in a way that is clear and persuasive. To help you understand just how simple and attainable eloquence is, I have narrowed it down to three qualities. These elements should be present in everything you write.
To be concise is to say only what you need to. Don’t add words to make yourself seem more intelligent or because you think it makes your argument more legitimate. Not only will being concise help you with clarity, it will also garner the appreciation of your audience; they don’t want to be reading more than they have to.
When you’re concise, you’re more likely to be clear. It’s important that your audience understands exactly what you’re saying the first time around. If they don’t, your writing will lose impact, and maybe even the attention of the reader. Start by using the simplest possible language. In the same way that using a lot of words doesn’t make you sound smart, neither does adding complicated terms that hinder clarity.
When you combine concision and clarity into a persuasive piece of writing, you get an impactful and exciting argument. You get cogency. This should be the thing you’re constantly thinking about in your writing. Is your argument easily understandable? Is it presented at the forefront of your writing? Does it make sense?
When you’re writing, don’t worry about trying to impress your audience with an impressive vocabulary or overly intricate sentences. Just aim to be concise, clear, and cogent. That’s all you need to write eloquent sentences.
Don’t get comfy with commas
Commas are in vogue at the moment. They’re everywhere, making sentences longer, dividing up lists. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a comma here and there (especially an Oxford comma. Truly one of the great grammatical innovations, and I will not hear a word against it). But I’ve noticed a trend of people stitching together clause after clause with commas, ignoring the existence of the period.
This is not good for multiple reasons. For one, the overuse of commas often leads to grammatical errors like the dreaded comma splice (this is when two independent clauses are joined in the same sentence by a comma rather than a semicolon, colon, or conjunctive word). Not only does this indicate a lack of attention to detail on your part, it also makes your writing harder to comprehend. Let’s take it from Phillip Corbett, an editor at the New York Times. “When you get up to four or five commas,” he warns, “think again.” I would suggest looking at commas like fire extinguishers; they’re fantastic when you need them, but make things very messy when you don’t.
The second reason for using commas sparingly is stylistic. This one is particularly relevant to any marketers or copywriters who want their words to turn heads. A great example is a firm that I believe may have a company-wide ban on commas: Apple. If you Google the term “Apple ad” (as I did for this piece) you will see a lot of periods and not a lot of commas. One recent campaign is led by the tagline: Privacy. That’s iPhone.
Sometimes, two sentences are better than one. This line couldn’t be more eloquent. It uses as few words as possible while still relaying a powerful message. And where does a lot of this gravitas come from? The substituting of a comma for a period. The historian Joe Moran argues that spaces between sentences are full of meaning; it’s where the implications sit. By separating these three words into two sentences the marketers at Apple have made you stop and think about what privacy means to you before suggesting that the iPhone has some sort of monopoly on it. All this by making one sentence two.
There they are; my two tips for writing powerful sentences. But you won’t always have the presence of mind to say what you want, with the eloquence you desire.
That’s where Outwrite’s AI paraphrasing tool comes in. It finds different ways to rephrase and restructure your writing to make it clear and compelling. Try it out on your next sentence, or learn more about it here