Vary sentence structure in writing so that what you write doesn't look like a list of things on the one hand or a long winding sentence that might never end on the other hand.
Varying sentence structure keeps your writing alive and readers interested. As Andrea Lunsford indicates, "Constant uniformity in anything, in fact, soon gets tiresome, while its opposite, variation, is usually pleasing to readers. Variety is important in sentence structures because too much uniformity results in dull listless prose" (189).
Monotonous tone can be avoided by varying:
The easiest way to bore readers is to use simple Subject + Verb structure in all sentences. Consider the following example:
Vincent van Gogh was born in the southern Netherlands in 1853 to the family of a Dutch church minister. He started working as an art dealer at the early age of fifteen. He worked there for five years. Vincent fell in love with one of the girls at his boarding house. He finally decided to confess his love for her, but she rejected him. He was devastated. Vincent quit the art gallery and decided that his true passion was to become a pastor.
He lived with his relatives for a while in Amsterdam and prepared to study theology at the university. Vincent failed in his studies. He then worked as a missionary in a coal-mining village in Belgium for a year. His missionary work unfortunately didn't bring him closer to becoming a pastor. Vincent often turned to drawing when life proved hard. He liked to portray the everyday life of ordinary people. In this period, he produced one of his early famous paintings "The Potato Eaters."
Here's a revised version which has a combination of simple, compound, and complex sentences:
Born to the family of a Dutch church minister in the southern Netherlands in 1853, Vincent van Gogh received his first exposure to art at the age of fifteen when he started working as an art dealer. Saddened by unrequited love, Vincent quit the gallery after only five years and turned to religion, setting his goals on becoming a pastor.
For a while, he lived with his relatives in Amsterdam preparing for the study of theology. Despite his passion and hard work, Vincent failed at his studies. Undeterred by his failure to get into the university, Vincent continued his pursuit of religion as a missionary in a coal-mining village in Belgium. He often drew to escape the harsh reality of life in this impoverished region. The everyday life of ordinary people seemed to attract his attention the most. It was during this period that he produced one of the most famous paintings of his early career, "The Potato Eaters."
A combination of simple, compound, and complex sentences not only makes the flow of information more interesting, but it also improves the readability of the passage.
If sentences in a paragraph begin with the same opening subject, the writing becomes monotonous.
In the previous example, we saw a lot of repetitions of the pronoun he. To avoid this monotonous effect, start the sentences with adverb modifiers or clauses, transitional expressions, prepositional or infinitive phrases.
Vary your sentences by starting them with adverb modifiers or clauses, transitional expressions, prepositional or Infinitive phrases.
Argumentation isn't just about what you say but how you say it. Even the most solid argument won't get far with a reader if the text isn't engaging. But how do we do that?
Perhaps the biggest secret to creating captivating writing is variation. Without it, your reader might fall asleep from boredom.
If you've ever been in a vibrant debate with someone you respected about beliefs you hold dear, you've got a sense of just the kind of life we want to capture when we're writing. Learning, debating ideas, digging for the truth: these things are all fun! No need for "anyone" to be drooling on his desk.
If variation is key, what can we vary? We've discussed the importance of structure. Readers need to depend on the paper's structure to be able to follow the argument. So, introduction, conclusion, body paragraphs with topic sentences and transitions—yes to all of these. Within the structure, though, you can vary the following:
You'll want to have reasons for the choices you make. Adding random rhetorical questions will sound strange, but if you ask the right question at the right time, it will make the reader think. The same will be true of all variation. There must be a good reason to choose a particular sentence structure or a new type of evidence.
There are no codified rules on how to vary sentence structure, nor are there lists of all the different types of phrasing you can use; the English language allows for so much flexibility that such a list would be never-ending. However, there are some aspects of writing that you should consider when looking for different sentence formats.
Clauses: The easiest way to vary sentence length and structure is with clauses. Multi-clause sentences can connect related ideas, provide additional detail, and vary the pattern of your language.
Length: Longer sentences are better suited for expressing complex thoughts. Shorter sentences, in contrast, are useful when you want to emphasize a concise point. Clauses can vary in length, too.
Interrogatives: When used sparingly, questions can catch your reader's attention. They also implicate your reader as a participant in your argument by asking them to think about how they would answer the question.
Tone: If you really want a sentence to stand out, you can change the tone of your writing. Using different tones can catch the reader's attention and liven up your work. That means you can be playful with your reader at times, sound demanding at times, and cultivate empathy when that feels appropriate. Be careful that the tone you choose is appropriate for the subject matter.
Syntax variation cultivates interest. Start playing with structure. Try changing a sentence's language to make it sound different from the ones around it.
Here is an example of what a paragraph with a repetitive syntax can sound like:
"Looking Backward was popular in the late nineteenth century. Middle-class Americans liked its vision of society. The vision appealed to their consumption habits. Also, they liked the possibility of not being bothered by the poor."
Choppy? Uninteresting? Here's the rewritten version, with attention paid to sentence variation:
"The popularity of Looking Backward among middle-class Americans in the late nineteenth century can be traced to its vision of society. The novel presents a society that easily dispels the nuisance of poverty and working-class strife while maintaining the pleasure of middle-class consumptive habits."
What's different here? The rewrite simply combines the first two and the last two sentences and adds a bit of variation in vocabulary, but the difference is powerful. Of course, if all the sentences were compound like these, the paper would begin to sound either pretentious or exhausting. If this were your paper, you might want to make the next sentence a short one and get to your thesis statement relatively soon.
One way to avoid appearing overly repetitive is to consult a thesaurus and use synonyms. However, when using synonyms, you should make sure that the word you choose means exactly what you think it means. ("Penultimate," for example, does not mean "the highest," and there’s a difference between "elicit" and "illicit.") Check the connotations of synonyms by looking up their definitions.
Varying Transitions, Signal Words, Pointing Words, and Pronouns
Writers familiar with their own habits will sometimes do a “word search” on a word or phrase they typically overuse (“however,” “that said,” “moreover,”) and replace some of those words with another transition. Or they might rework a sentence to avoid using any transition words in that spot, if they feel they’re overdoing it. Nouns, too, often get overused when pronouns would sound more natural. Don’t worry about this too much in the writing phase; you just want to get your thoughts on the page. But as you revise, keep an eye out for repetition and switch things up a bit to keep your paper interesting.
Introducing variation benefits not only your reader, but also you, the writer. Conceiving of different ways to communicate essential elements of your argument will allow you to revisit what makes these elements essential and to consider the central argument you are making. Each variation is a chance to introduce nuance into your writing while driving your point home. However, variation should never be your main goal—don't sacrifice audience comprehension to achieve stylistic virtuosity. You'll just sound silly. The argument is the point.
Vary the types of sentences you use to keep your paper interesting.