Spice Up Your Writing

by Dr. Marlene Caroselli Mar 02, 2018, 2 Comments

Spice up your writing

Variety, as we all know, is the spice of life. It’s also the spice of good writing.

There’s an easy way to find out if your sentences have variety. Take a paragraph you’ve written—one of eight or so sentences. Then, write down the first word in each sentence. Next, identify the part of speech for each word. If most of your sentences begin with the same part of speech, you don’t have variety.

It’s as simple as that.

Is a lack of variety harming your advancement?

It’s been said that “whenever you put words on paper or on a computer screen, you are letting others see into your brain.” What do others see when they read what you’ve written? Do they pick up a lack of originality? A lack of verbal flexibility? A lack of passion for the written word?

Do they mock the simplicity of an utterance such as, “This is an island, surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water”? Or, do they admire the inspiration found in an utterance like this from Ronald Reagan: “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!” (Note that Reagan’s sentences begin with an adjective, a noun used as an adjective, and an adverb. See what I mean about variety?)

When I taught business writing to Department of Defense employees, they would often ask me to look over their SF171s—the form needed to apply for a new job or a promotion. Far too often, the verbiage looked like this: "I have worked for the Department of Defense for 12 years. I have demonstrated competence with emerging technology. I have met every assignment given me on time. I have made significant contribution to whatever team I was part of. I have enjoyed the challenges given me.”

“I, I, I, I, I.” Is there anything wrong with starting every sentence with a pronoun? Technically, no. Is there anything compelling about reading every sentence that starts the same way? Not really.

Syntactical Sameness

We tend to speak in a simple subject-verb-direct object fashion—“I ate a pizza,” for example. And when it comes to writing, we tend to record our thoughts using the same syntax. If you believe that variety is the spice of life, you will understand how variety can breathe life into your prose.

If you’re interested in improving your writing style, here are alternatives to the basic noun-verb-noun format. Let’s take the famous saying, "Don't cross your bridges until you come to them" as our exemplar. (This sentence begins with a verb, by the way, so we already have our first alternative to the noun-verb-noun structure: starting the sentence with a verb.)

Start with an Expletive

No, we don’t mean the four-letter words that got Richard Nixon into so much trouble on tape. Instead, we are referring to the linguistic sentence-opener that uses phrases such as "It is" or "There are." Periodically, use this kind of expletive to begin your thoughts. Our aphorism would become: "It is critical that we not cross bridges until we come to them."

Start with a Gerund

Simply for the sake of variety, we can begin our sentences with this verb form that usually ends in "-ing." The original saying with a gerund might run: "Crossing your bridges before you come to them can mean wasted time and energy."

Start with an Adverb

The effective writer has numerous tools at his or her fingertips—tools for bringing a fresh slant to the points being made. One such syntactical tool is the adverb, which tells us when, where, how, or to what extent. To pique a reader’s interest, your original sentence could be re-written this way: "When you get to the bridge, then you can cross it."

Start with a Preposition

These short words introduce a group of words. The whole group, known as the prepositional phrase, provides more information about the basic noun or verb. Our saying could be reworked to: "In the interest of time, avoid crossing bridges until you come to them."

Start with an Infinitive Phrase

One of the world’s most frequently quoted lines begins with an infinitive phrase: "To be or not to be." Applied to our saying, the revision might read: "To prepare to cross a bridge before you come to it is usually a waste of time."

Start with a Dependent Clause

Grammar-meisters know such clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions—words such as when, if, while, although. The new saying, starting with a dependent clause, could be: "If you cross your bridges before you come to them, you will be sorry."

Coco’s comment

Coco Chanel, born in 1883, was known for more than her fashion style. She is also remembered for providing quote-lovers with a number of insights that have inspired people all over the world for more than a century. It was she who observed, “There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work. And time for love. That leaves no other time.”

If words are the work you love, you will seek to avoid monotony. Having variety in your sentence structure will make that search ever more interesting.

Coming soon to ProWritingAid: The Sentence Structure Variety Report

Dr Caroselli pitched us this post last month and, coincidentally, the team at ProWritingAid is currently working on a new Sentence Structure Variety Report that will analyze the percentage of your sentences that begin with a subject, adverb, infinitive phrase, subordinate conjunction, coordinating conjunction, transitional phrase or where you have inverted your subject and verb. We will hopefully begin rolling it out next month!

Have you tried ProWritingAid's editing tool yet? It will help you edit faster, strengthen your writing, and get your ideas across. Try it for free now.

About the Author:

Dr. Marlene Caroselli is an author, keynoter, and corporate trainer whose clients include Lockheed Martin, Allied Signal, Department of the Interior, and Navy SEALS. She writes extensively about education, business, self-improvement, and careers and has adjuncted at UCLA and National University. Her first book, The Language of Leadership, was named a main selection by the Executive Book Club. Principled Persuasion, a more recent title, was designated a Director's Choice by the Doubleday Book Club. Applying Mr. Albert: 365+ Einstein-Inspired Brain Boosts, her 62nd book, will be released by HRD Press in 2018. You can contact her at msmccpd@gmail.com

Comments (2) Add Yours

  • Benita Cullingford says
    Your comment Very useful. Thanks.
    Posted On Mar 07, 2018 | 12:15
    Add your comment
  • paticitamia1 says
    It is great! thank you, you are the best
    Posted On Mar 07, 2018 | 05:05
    Add your comment
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