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!
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:
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.
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.
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.