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Writing

How to Vary Sentence Structure in Your Writing

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

An important component of the writing process is the need to vary your syntax and written rhythms to keep your reader engaged. Such variation includes word choice, tone, vocabulary, and—perhaps more than anything else—sentence structure.

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What Is Sentence Structure?

Sentence structure refers to the way a writer constructs a sentence. Great writing includes all the below sentence variations, and the best writers have a firm grip on each of them:

  • Sentence length: from short sentences to long sentences and everything in between
  • Sentence style: from simple sentences to compound sentences to complex sentences
  • Sentence types: from declarative to interrogative to exclamatory and beyond
  • Sentence clarity: from direct and informative to intentionally vague and perhaps poetic

7 Ways to Vary Sentence Structure

Although readers may not consciously realize it, they look for sentence variety when they delve into a book, news story, or magazine article. One of the best writing tips a first-time author can receive is to embrace varied sentence structure—no matter your writing style. Here are some writing tips to inject sentence variety into your work.

  1. Embrace short sentences. If your first sentence is a compound sentence with multiple clauses, make your second sentence short and simple. Shorter sentences are powerful when free from vague words. Many great writers, from Ernest Hemingway to Judy Blume, made their name on short sentences. There’s a place in writing for wordy sentences, but short, clear sentences help keep your reader engaged.
  2. Follow dense sentences with simple sentences. A dense sentence might be one like a compound-complex sentence, which has at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. Using compound-complex sentences are great, but two in a row can be tedious. If you write one, follow it up with a different type of sentence. For instance, you could write a compound-complex sentence, like: “Frantic with hunger, Marlene opened the refrigerator, for she knew there was leftover soup inside.” That’s a nice long sentence, so it makes sense to trail it with a simpler sentence, like: “Her stomach rumbled.”
  3. Use the active voice when possible. Active voice verbs describe a person doing something. “He caught the ball” is active. “The ball was caught by him” says the same information using passive voice, and it’s a less appealing sentence construction. Sometimes you need to write a passive sentence to accurately describe a situation, which is great for sentence variety, but you’ll typically want to use the active voice.
  4. Use a variety of transition words. A transition word can be a coordinating conjunction (“and,” “but,” “for,” etc.), a subordinating conjunction (“although,” “because,” etc.) or a conjunctive adverb (“however,” “therefore,” “moveover,” etc.). These words are great as long as you vary them and don’t fall back on pet phrases.
  5. Cut down on conjunctions by using semicolons. In a compound sentence, two independent clauses are joined together—typically with a coordinating conjunction. But in your quest for varying sentence types, you can replace the conjunction with a semicolon after the first independent clause. The words will retain their meaning, but you’ve added variety to your sentence patterns.
  6. In persuasive writing, start paragraphs with a pithy thesis statement. A thesis statement is the type of sentence that is direct and declarative. Longer sentences can serve as theses, but shorter tends to be better. Follow up these theses with more descriptive sentences in the body of your paragraphs.
  7. Use rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions are statements phrased as questions intended to stimulate a reader’s mind. For instance: “What if there was no such thing as war?” These types of sentences have a place in both creative writing and content writing. The key is to use them judiciously.
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