5 Keys to Better Sentence Flow
Sentences can be short. They can also be long. This is a good thing. Lack of variety is wearying. It may drive you to distraction.
It’s a good thing that sentences can be short or long, because lack of variety is wearying and may drive you to distraction.
Which paragraph was easier to read? If you’re like me (and why wouldn’t you be?), you’ll pick the latter example, which employs combination and subordination (the process of making one of two sentences part of the other). It’s easy to get caught up in a ratcheted conveyor belt of short, staccato sentences, but it’s also simple to introducing some variety of sentence length through these two frequently paired strategies.
1. “The money was doled out in what are known as State Revolving Funds. These are pots of cash that finance each state’s drinking-water and clean-water infrastructure improvements. “
If a sentence constitutes a definition for a term introduced in the previous sentence, delete the subject from the defining sentence and link the two sentences: “The money was doled out in what are known as State Revolving Funds, pots of cash that finance each state’s drinking-water and clean-water infrastructure improvements.”
2. “The most famous was called the Wonder Fountain. The attraction shot river water 150 feet into the air from a round pool. It drew visitors from Charlotte and beyond.”
This “See Dick run. See Jane run.” succession is easily folded together: Delete the first verb and make the noun phrase after it an appositive. Link the defining sentence to it as a parenthetical phrase, and emerge from that phrase to close with an additional phrase consisting of the final sentence shorn of its subject. The result: “The most famous, the Wonder Fountain, which shot river water 150 feet into the air from a round pool, drew visitors from Charlotte and beyond.”
3. “Religious or purely spiritual models are found in several faiths. They are often considered folk models because they derive from the rank-and-file citizenry.”
A sentence that provides additional detail about the previous sentence can often, absent its subject, be inserted into the midst of the first sentence as a parenthetical phrase: “Religious or purely spiritual models, often considered folk models because they derive from the rank-and-file citizenry, are found in several faiths.”
4. “He stood in front of the half-empty San Luis Reservoir, built in 1962 to store water for the feds’ Central Valley Project. He painted a Dust Bowl-grim picture of Central Valley’s storied farming economy.”
Replace a sentence’s subject with a participle (a verb with an -ing ending), then clip the following sentence’s subject and tack the rest of the sentence on: “Standing in front of the half-empty San Luis Reservoir, built in 1962 to store water for the feds’ Central Valley Project, he painted a Dust Bowl–grim picture of Central Valley’s storied farming economy.”
5. “Following the principles of Ayurvedic medicine, the flavors, numbering six, are defined as follows: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, astringent, and spicy. These flavors are divided into six categories, which are associated with earth, water, and fire.”
When combining and subordinating sentences, look for opportunities to make a passage more concise as well. Stating the number of listed flavors is superfluous, and “are defined as follows” is a verbose and unnecessary obstacle between the reader and the list.
Note, too, how em dashes are employed in order to avoid a bewildering succession of commas: “Following the principles of Ayurvedic medicine, the flavors—divided into categories associated with earth, water, and fire—are sweet, sour, bitter, salty, astringent, and spicy.”
Successions of sentences don’t always merit these steps, but judicious application will improve the flow of your writing.