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How to Use... The Sticky Sentences Report

The ProWritingAid Team
ProWritingAid: A grammar guru, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.
Published Aug 10, 2019

How to use the sticky sentence report

Nobody likes it when gum gets stuck to their shoe. Likewise, nobody likes too many sticky sentences in writing.

In this article, we'll define what a sticky sentence is, why it affects your writing, and how ProWritingAid can help. Let's get started!

Contents:
  1. What's a Sticky Sentence?
  2. How Do I Unstick My Sentences?
  3. Using ProWritingAid's Sticky Sentences Report

What's a Sticky Sentence?

An author named Richard Wydick wrote a book entitled Plain English for Lawyers. In it, he defined two types of words: working words and glue words.

What's a Working Word?

As their name implies, working words carry the load of most sentences. Working words convey meaning to the reader and contain the sentence's most essential information. Take this sentence, for example:

Jenna hurled the basketball from half-court and watched it soar.

If you think of your sentence as a structure, then working words are the beams and struts. If you remove any one of them, the sentence will likely fall apart.

What's a Glue Word?

Now that you know what a working word is, you might wonder what all the words we didn't highlight are called. Those are what Richard Wydick calls "glue words."

Just as you'd expect, glue words tend to make the essential pieces of the sentence stick together. They're words that don't carry much meaning in and of themselves, yet are still necessary to create a coherent sentence. Here are some of the most common glue words:

Sticky sentences and glue words

Too Many Glue Words Create a Sticky Sentence

It's a matter of percentage. Every sentence has (and needs) glue words. But when you get too many in a sentence, the sentence becomes sticky. In practical terms, that means it's difficult to read.

We've determined that the best mark to aim for is less than 40% glue words in sentences. Some sentences might go over that mark, but that should only happen rarely and only for a good reason.

All this conceptual stuff is well and good, but it helps to see things in action. Check out this example:

Sticky: I went over to my friend's house after school and then we just played basketball for a really long time.

Glue index: 61.9%

Rewrite: After school, I headed to my friend's house and we played basketball all afternoon.

Glue index: 33.3%

See how much better the second sentence reads? By reducing our glue index, we've provided more concrete detail in a less confusing manner.

Pro Tip: If you run the Sticky Sentences Report in ProWritingAid, you can hover your cursor over a sticky sentence to see your glue words.

Stick Sentences

Don't worry if the report reveals an unexpectedly high score. As mentioned, all sentences need glue words. In fact, some might be sticky by necessity and simply can't be written any other way. Ultimately, you're the writer, so you're the authority. If you don't want to change your sentence, sticky or not, then don't.

How Do I Unstick My Sentences?

Glad you asked! In this section, we're going to look at several sticky sentences and show you how to unstick them.

Sticky sentences tend to fall under several general categories. In no particular order, here they are:

Needlessly Complex Sentences

Sometimes writers use a lot of glue words to make a simple thought sound complex. However, this technique often misses the intended effect; rather than sounding smart, the writer simply sounds confusing.

Sticky: After I woke up in the morning the other day, I went downstairs, turned on the stove, and made myself a very good omelet.

Glue index: 66.7%

Rewrite: I cooked a delicious omelet for breakfast yesterday morning.

Glue index: 33.3%

By simplifying the sentence, we clarify our ideas and make them easier for our readers to understand.

Backloading Sentences

Are you back-loading your sentences? If so, you might be making them stickier than they need to be. Instead of putting the essential information in back, try putting it in front.

Sticky: I decided not to wear too many layers because it's really hot outside.

Glue index: 50%

Rewrite: It's sweltering outside today, so I dressed light.

Glue index: 22.2%

Packing Too Many Points

A sentence should carry a central point or takeaway for the reader. If it has multiple points, it might be best arranged as several sentences instead. Compare the following examples:

Sticky: Last night I worked until nine, then took the train and slept all the way back home, then ordered myself some pizza and watched The X Files.

Glue index: 56.5%

Rewrite: Last night I worked until nine. Once finished, I rode the train home and slept for the duration. Afterward, I rewarded myself with pizza and X Files.

Glue index: 37%

Including Nonessential Information

Pretty much all information has a use. But that doesn't mean it has a use in all your sentences. Consider these:

Sticky: It doesn't matter what kind of coffee I buy, where it's from, or if it's organic or not—I need to have cream because I really don't like how the bitterness makes me feel.

Glue index: 55.9%

Specificity is great, but this sentence has gone overboard. Here's the central point:

Rewrite: I add cream to my coffee because the bitter taste makes me feel unwell.

Glue index: 23.1%

Using ProWritingAid's Sticky Sentences Report

Our app is advanced enough to identify sticky sentences in your writing. It is not, however, advanced enough to rewrite them for you. In all honesty, it probably never will be.

That's a good thing! It's up to us writers to rework our sentences to be the best they can be. If ProWritingAid identifies stickiness in your work, try using the above tips to rework your sentences.

That said, don't feel compelled to do it. We've noticed that many writers take the Sticky Sentences Report results as a mark of bad writing. It isn't necessarily the case. A sticky sentence here and there is usually fine, especially if there's no other way to phrase your thought. A whole book full of them is another story.

Use your judgment. You're the writer, so you have the final say. If you love your sentence despite its stickiness, keep it. If you side with our app and decide it needs revision, revise it.

Now get out there, writer! We can't wait to read your work.

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The ProWritingAid Team
ProWritingAid: A grammar guru, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.

The most successful people in the world have coaches. Whatever your level of writing, ProWritingAid will help you achieve new heights. Exceptional writing depends on much more than just correct grammar. You need an editing tool that also highlights style issues and compares your writing to the best writers in your genre. ProWritingAid helps you find the best way to express your ideas.

A quick exploration of this tool impressed me. My writing needs it. Sharon Sterling, Author
By radiantsharon on 26 April 2016, 05:32 PM
ghost writing quickly can enhance bad habits over time, so a tool like this is great to keep yourself in check sometimes, make sure you're not using glue words just to get the word count or otherwise slacking. Although I must say I don't want to run some of my comedic, cliche-riddled work through that thing or I might break it!
By redshadow47 on 24 May 2016, 10:47 AM
Tips on writing support writing very much, especially for those learning and practising writing.
By locdang54 on 08 August 2016, 08:10 AM
The sticky sentence check is great but currently the MS Word ad-on does not highlight the glue words that are not in sticky sentences. It would be nice if be nice if you provided an option to highlight the words in the future, Paul Nieto, Blogger
By pauln08 on 04 November 2016, 04:06 AM
Agreed!
By Akikorye on 13 February 2017, 03:16 AM
I‘ve never realized the significance of glue words to make writing brief and concise. Thanks for it.
By 1723819956 on 19 December 2016, 08:23 AM
In my experience, few sticky sentences are even marked. And the report continues to suggest a large number, while showing them all crossed out in the detail. I like the idea, but I'm not getting functionality, in the online version.
By dah@pacific.net on 12 January 2017, 06:48 PM
My favorite report, but I run the Writing Style check first, which weeds out most glue words. Still, I continue editing until I'm under 38 percent glue words. Amazing how many words you can cut and yet be understood. That said, I would love glue words highlighted. There are times when writing a short piece where I have no Writing Style errors, no sticky sentences and still cannot crack the 40 percent barrier. It would be nice to see all glue words highlighted as an aid.
By llLeoll on 18 March 2017, 09:12 PM
Amazing tool!! I'm just starting as a writer and I believe this tool will be my faithful inseparable companion :)
By anrueda on 23 March 2017, 12:33 AM
I was surprised yet annoyed at myself when I read how many "sticky" sentences my one submission contained. That means more work and I'm pretty lazy. Now I am thinking of other novels that probably are not finished because I keep writing when I should stop! This reminds me of the writer played by Michael Douglas in the excellent film "Wonder Boys". After a first best-seller, he is unable to complete his second novel, not out of writer's block, but the inability to stop. He carries around a huge manuscript and won't let anyone read it, while he is hounded by his agent, his students and friends. Hopefully, it won't take a car accident and the loss of my manuscript to the four winds to trim down what I have already written.
By samwisetalbot on 25 March 2017, 04:02 PM
I hope 'asked' and' said' aren't included as sticky because they're the dialogue tags editors require. Catch 22 anyone?
By martyknox on 22 February 2018, 08:17 PM
Honestly, I do think that the sticky sentence finder is good. But the 40 glue word seems a bit too much. 45 or 48 would be better.
By webbrd21 on 15 October 2018, 02:24 PM
Why is the target 40%? Is this something there's data on or a number that somebody felt was right?
By LondonC on 13 January 2019, 08:26 PM
You guys are absolute lifesavers! So much useful advice. Thank you.
By 5142ab4cbb842b8dfca1ddd9db32fa35@1059617prowritingaid.com on 12 February 2019, 12:02 AM
I love your site, please keep me posted on any new updates. I would also love to have a daily or weekly newsletter from you guys.
By brobinson.studetn on 21 March 2019, 01:01 PM
It's interesting that there is this focus on Glue Words because in the 1980s there was a major focus on using them to fix fragment and run on sentences in ESOL. Now we are trying to get rid of them. Does this system find fragment and run on sentences to compensate?
By aemservices.236 on 10 June 2019, 12:01 PM
I love this program. Thanks for the advice.
By ueluis1 on 18 June 2019, 12:46 PM
Excellent tips. I had only a vague notion what a sticky word was. Thought these were like fillers or words editors called fluff. They add nothing to the meaning of sentence and created distance from the author to reader. The list is most helpful.
By Wristab10@gmail.com on 31 July 2019, 06:16 AM
I tend to allow only one sticky sentence per 500 words.
By lkpalmer1776 on 07 August 2019, 01:50 PM
I have no sticky sentences, but glue index above 40%. How can I get it to highlight glue words, so I can refine?
By duncan6 on 15 September 2019, 04:57 PM
I second the question of how do you bring your stickiness below 40% when you have corrected all the highlighted sticky sentences. I can only think the explanation is that there are enough glue words in non highlighted sentences to do this. If that’s the case, I also second the suggestion that there be away to highlight glue words (or at least the most frequent ones) in non highlighted sentences. Thanks.
By fstclairejm on 18 September 2019, 07:16 AM
After school, I headed to my friend's house and we played basketball all afternoon. does this sentence need a comma?
By cathy.myrowitz on 18 September 2019, 03:41 PM