October 2014  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

Test Your Writing Acumen: Types of Sentences

Last month we tested you on kinds of sentences—declarative, interrogative, imperative, exclamatory, and conditional. This month, we’re going to give you a chance to review the types of sentences, which are named according to their structure. Tell whether each of the following sentences is simple, compound, complex, or compound-complex.

  1. As I was determined to see the show, I waited in the ticket line for four hours.
  2. I really believed in our project, so I didn’t mind putting in the extra hours.
  3. Joyfully, the dog leaped at its returning owner and knocked her down.
  4. If I make plans, something usually spoils them, but this time nothing stood in my way.
  5. Gert planned the entire reception herself.
  6. I couldn’t wait to go home, but Thom caught me at the elevator.
  7. When the rain is heavy, and if the wind is out of the east, the roof leaks in the dining room.
  8. Jim tried to explain to Sophie about the letter, but because she had been hurt in the past, she refused to listen to him.

You can check your answers at the end of this newsletter.

Sentence Fluency

We are often told to “go with the flow,” and nowhere is that more important than in writing. Sentence fluency is the quality of sentences moving easily from one to the next in a readable text. Good sentence flow can be achieved in three ways:

  1. Vary sentence length.
    When all the sentences in a piece are the same length, the writing tends to be boring. A barrage of short sentences gives the text a choppy, mechanical feel. On the other hand, assembling one long sentence after another will leave the reader struggling to find the message. Combine some of the short, related sentences and rework others to create a good balance and help the reader stay on task.

    Example: Unfortunately the increasing size of your orders has outstripped our manufacturing abilities. Regrettably we can no longer meet your needs for custom plastic parts. Consequently we must refuse your current order and end our business relationship. Please know that we appreciate your past business with us. We sincerely hope you will soon find a larger supplier for your parts.

    This example feels choppy and abrupt. By combining and rewording ideas, we can create a smoother, more readable paragraph.

    Revision: Unfortunately your recent orders have been larger than we can efficiently fill, and we must actually refuse this current order. Although we have truly appreciated doing business with you, we can no longer supply you with custom plastic parts. We hope you will find a more suitable supplier soon.
  2. Vary sentence structure.
    Using a variety of sentence types is also important to fluency. The example message above uses simple sentences in the main. The revision combines and rearranges ideas into three sentences: (a) a compound sentence, (b) a complex sentence, and (c) a succinct simple sentence.
  3. Vary sentence openings
    As you work to vary the structure and length of your sentences, also remember to check your sentence openings. For example, instead of always opening with the subject, use an introductory word or phrase or begin with a dependent clause. The revised message above uses an introductory adverb (Unfortunately), a dependent clause (Although we . . .), and a straightforward subject (We) to create a pleasing variety.

Variety is not only “the spice of life,” it is also the spice of writing. Your goal is to create sentences that clearly state your ideas while holding your reader’s attention. Consider presenting difficult concepts in simple, straightforward sentences, and combining less difficult ideas into the more involved sentence structures. The desired result is not only variety, but clarity.

You can find more on sentence fluency beginning on page 317 in Write for Business: A Compact Guide to Writing and Communicating in the Workplace.

Trainer Tip

Being able to retain knowledge is often the result of repeating it in various contexts. After a training session, give employees a bit of a refresher, perhaps by emailing a reminder of an important procedure or task they have learned. Keep these emails brief and light. A joke or cartoon that fits with the lesson can also reinforce an idea in a pleasant way.

That Little Extra

If you are a manager, don’t be afraid to admit mistakes or ask for help. Being the boss doesn’t make you perfect. By acknowledging an error or asking for suggestions, you will maintain or even enhance your authority, since your employees will perceive you as approachable and likable. Accept suggestions graciously, even if you may not use a particular idea. Letting colleagues know that you do consider and appreciate them will go miles toward cementing a team attitude.

   

October Writers' Forum Topic

Here’s your chance to tell us how your work environment operates. Send us your responses to the forum question below, and we’ll print the most interesting in our eTips Mid-Month Mini.

What writing skills are most important in your business? How do you make sure your employees have these skills?

Email your response to writersforum@upwritepress.com. Write “October Writers’ Forum” in the subject line, and you could see your reply in the eTips Mid-Month Mini.

Answers to This Month’s Quiz

  1. As I was determined to see the show, I waited in the ticket line for four hours.
    Complex—one independent clause, one dependent clause
  2. I really believed in our project, so I didn’t mind putting in the extra hours.
    Compound—two independent clauses, no dependent clause
  3. Joyfully, the dog leaped at its returning owner and knocked her down.
    Simple—one independent clause (with a compound predicate)
  4. If I make plans, something usually spoils them, but this time nothing stood in my way.
    Compound-Complex—two independent clauses, one dependent clause
  5. Gert planned the entire reception herself.
    Simple—one independent clause
  6. I couldn’t wait to go home, but Thom caught me at the elevator.
    Compound—two independent clauses
  7. When the rain is heavy, and if the wind is out of the east, the roof leaks in the dining room.
    Complex—one independent clause, two dependent clauses
  8. Jim tried to explain to Sophie about the letter, but because she had been hurt in the past, she refused to listen to him.
    Compound-Complex—two independent clauses, one dependent clause

Remember that a complex sentence has only one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses. A compound-complex sentence has two or more independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses.

We Want to Hear from You!

This is your chance to be part of the UpWrite Press newsletters and blogs. What writing topics do you want to hear about? Have you any favorite communications tips you’d like to share? What words do you constantly mix up? Send us your ideas and you could see your name in Writing eTips or the Mid-Month Mini.

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Creating an Effective Visual Presentation

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