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How to Use the Sticky Sentences Report

The ProWritingAid Team

The ProWritingAid Team

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

Published Feb 15, 2020

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.

Aim for an average of less than 40% glue words throughout your entire text. Some sentences may have 30% glue words and others might have 50%, but over all, your average should be below 40%. The sticky sentence report flags individual sentences with a glue index of more than 60% as they will bring your overall average up.

Let's look at an 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

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.

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A quick exploration of this tool impressed me. My writing needs it. Sharon Sterling, Author
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!
Tips on writing support writing very much, especially for those learning and practising writing.
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
Agreed!
Yes! Highlighting sticky words would help writers immensely!
Agreed. It should work in the online version as well. I've been toying with the idea of writing it myself. Span html tags around sticky words with a yellow background.
Thanks for the feedback! Always appreciated. :)
I‘ve never realized the significance of glue words to make writing brief and concise. Thanks for it.
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.
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.
Amazing tool!! I'm just starting as a writer and I believe this tool will be my faithful inseparable companion :)
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.
I hope 'asked' and' said' aren't included as sticky because they're the dialogue tags editors require. Catch 22 anyone?
Personally, I have found eliminating dialogue tags altogether made my stories richer in details and characters so I never have to worry about those words. Now, the other 197 sticky words... LOL
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.
Why is the target 40%? Is this something there's data on or a number that somebody felt was right?
You guys are absolute lifesavers! So much useful advice. Thank you.
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.
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?
I love this program. Thanks for the advice.
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.
I tend to allow only one sticky sentence per 500 words.
I have no sticky sentences, but glue index above 40%. How can I get it to highlight glue words, so I can refine?
One tip that worked for me was sticky groups: on the, of the, in the, etc. I tend to describe vivid settings too specifically, so I had to find creative work-arounds which allow the setting to shine without sticky words. I maintain at 38% to 39% now. First time I loaded this report on first book, I bawled for hours over the 49.8% and struggled for ages trying to figure things out.
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.
After school, I headed to my friend's house and we played basketball all afternoon. does this sentence need a comma?
As a novice writer I get the Sticky sentence idea and I will have to write more carefully to avoid the problem
Hopefully PWA can help you with that! :) Happy writing - keep at it!
Today, June 18, I suddenly get no help from the program to see which words in a sentence are those who makes the sentence sticky. This makes this part of the program useless. Last week the program has said you have a number of sticky sentences, but not one single sentence is indicated! This makes this program useless. A question emerge from these experiences: to what can the information I get be trusted?
Oh no! Let's see if we can get to the bottom of this. When I run the "sticky report" by clicking the icon at the top righthand side of the ProWritingAid screen, a tool bar pops up on the left hand side of the screen indicating my "sticky percentage" and identifying which sentences are sticky. When I hover over the bar that says "# of sticky sentences found," a curved arrow pointing right pops up. When I click on that arrow it takes me to the sentence. When I over the sticky sentence, a dialogue box prompts me to make changes, but I need to make those changes on my own. Understanding which words are considered "glue words" is crucial to using this report optimally. I'd suggest watching this short video to get a better understanding of what "glue words" are and how to work on your "sticky sentences." https://youtu.be/QaNAon0v4kk. Thanks for the question! I hope this helps! :)
this section does not work. It says there are six sticky sentences, still not one single sentence is indicated. I have used this program for several years, mostly every day, so I know all the mistakes the last months is something new. Please correct, or I want my money back. This is not the only part of the program that has begone to malfunction.
What a bummer that you're still having trouble! I've alerted our development team and will let you know if I find out anything new regarding this report.
Hi there! Will you send us an e-mail to hello@prowritingaid.com from the email address associated with your ProWritingAid account? This way we can look at your account from the back end and get to the bottom of the issue! Thanks. :)
Today I checked for the first time the information given about a sentence. The sentence was said to contain 28 words, which was correct. Nine of them were said to be glue words, which was said to be 60,7 % of the words. No matter how I rewrote, the sentence remained sticky, until I found that 9 sticky world out of 28 words was 32 % not 60,7. It is not good to charge for a program which turn out go give incorrect information.
Sorry to hear that! We are always working to improve our program - your complaints have been noted!
while I was working on my book to remove sticky sentences and reduce the glue words, when I put the cursor anywhere in between it comes into a selection mode . It happened again and again, so I had to copy paste from word to do the corrections. Also when I clicked on the location arrow it did not show the sentences. You guys need to something about this. Suggest not to keep all the menus open, but make available only one or two at a time. As it is while you are working , you do not work on all the menus simultaneously. One thing at a time. this will save the cache in your program. It is not able to cope up with the AI program memory needs.
Thank you for the feedback! Copying and pasting can cause formatting issues - I'm so sorry. Which version of the app are you working with?
The Sticky Sentence Report is the first report I check, and often. Although I sometimes find it painfully annoying, it is as you say. Sticky sentences are not necessarily bad writing. There are 7 sticky sentences, 20 semi-sticky sentences, and a glue index of 40.1% in this article. It reads fine. Glue, after all, is the adhesive that holds the structure together. My challenge is to eliminate the sticky, review and tolerate the semi-sticky while staying under a 40% glue index. Hence the pain. And the two semi-sticky sentences herein.
Sounds like you really have an excellent handle on how to use the tool! We love hearing feedback like this - thank you for sharing!
When I use the sticky words guidelines, I can see and feel the flow of my writing speed up.
That's awesome! Thanks for sharing!! :)
Sticky Sentences Check is my favorite report: Sticky sentences tend to be clunky, dull, or filled with generic words.
We love getting this kind of feedback! So glad that the report is helpful to you. :)
How do we use the software to discover glue words in sentences which have less the 50% stickiness? To get below 40%, I need to find these words too!
Hi there! If you hover over your sticky sentences the tool will indicate the words that you may want to remove or replace! See above under "Pro Tip" for a picture that illustrates this process!
Yup, I understand that. But hovering only works for sentences which have over 50% glue words. If the goal is to get under 40%, how do I identify words in sentences that have 45% glue words?
Ah, I see! I'll have to investigate your situation specifically to deliver a proper answer. Please email us at hello@prowritingaid.com and include an example of a sentence that is giving you trouble. I'll be more than happy to investigate the matter, and hopefully find a useful answer for you!
Comment is deleted
Well okay!!! Thanks for the love! We are so glad that you are finding the tool useful! :)
Any chance you have an answer for my question, above the deleted comment? Thanks!
Sure thing! Please email us at hello@prowritingaid.com and we'll look into the issue more closely! Thanks! :)
Please explain your 'sticky word' choices for the following: The door flies open and strikes a woman. Why do your algorithms consider door and woman 'sticky'? I cannot substitute 'window,' 'portal,' 'gate,' or 'entrance' without changing the meaning of the sentence, creating confusion. The woman is not a lady (medieval setting, so defined station), peasant, or gentlewoman. Her status as mother, daughter, wife, spouse, aunt, niece, etc. is irrelevant. Saying that, I appreciate the report and use it. I seek understanding. Thanks.
Hi there! Great question. The answer is: not every suggestion from our reports is rule of law. Your writing and editing ultimately depends on you! Our algorithms for sticky words might not make sense for your specific text. And that's okay! Go ahead and ignore 'em! They're just suggestions.

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