Often I find myself advising writers to make their sentences shorter, either to declutter their style, or for clarity. But sometimes a long sentence might be necessary to vary the rhythm of your writing. Properly done, it can work a treat. After a series of shorter sentences, a long sentence can help build a crescendo, and also build pace. Long sentences don’t have to be complicated. In fact, they are often at their best and most effective when structured very simply. The best advice I’ve seen suggests that the writer should state the subject and verb as early as possible in the sentence, keeping them close together. Additional clauses branch from there but have a direct relationship to the subject of the sentence.
Look at this sentence from Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing (page 129):
‘Unique and experimental structures can open up new ways of approaching familiar issues, a form of intellectual displacement that parallels the physical displacement we feel when we traverse an unfamiliar landscape or enter a room where the walls sit at unusual angles.’
There are 42 words in this sentence, but at no point should the reader feel lost. The structure is very simple. The subject and verb are established right away, and everything that follows relates directly to them.
9 May 2018
Even if you feel safer with the passive voice, consider how you might use the occasional active sentence to liven up your writing.
Finessing an argument and spotting typos need different mindsets. Whether you’re writing an essay or a PhD, you need to be the editor as well as the author.
Here’s an enjoyable way to learn how the different parts of speech affect your writing style.