How to Write Better Sentences (and Develop Your Writing Skills)

October 18, 2022
Updated: Dec 07, 2022
How to Write Better Sentences (and Develop Your Writing Skills)

Writing well is a challenge.

Terrible sentences suffer from a lack of structure, clarity, and cohesion. 

On the other hand, some sentences suffer from too many words without substantial content. 

As a writer, you must ensure you’re clear on your message. The goal is to get your point across without rambling and losing the reader.

Write better sentences

This is why the words you choose and how you structure them is important. Each sentence plays a specific role so if you learn how to string them together correctly, you can write better sentences.

But that requires knowledge of grammar, sentence structure, and narrative-building.

In this guide, we’ll take you through the art of writing better sentences—and common pitfalls that prevent you from creating a solid sentence.

Write better sentences using Wordtune, the most advanced AI writing assistant >

Why writing better sentences is important

No profession is free from the expectation of good writing. If nothing else, you’ll still be writing emails, Slack messages, and progress reports.

If you cannot communicate your ideas, how else will you be heard or collaborate with others?

And to be good at writing, you need to write better sentences. 

Sentences form the basic unit of a piece. While some say writing them is like writing music, others say it’s like doing math. A recent study by scientists at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Poland found that sentences resemble fractals—a mathematical structure. Fractals are objects that, when expanded, have a structure resembling the whole.

So, when you build your sentences, keep the entire argument in mind. You need to know what the end goal is. If you don’t, it becomes hard to envision your piece’s direction, leading to unnecessary tangents.

Good writing is not only about writing a grammatically correct sentence or content. It hones in on the following: 

  • How do you communicate something
  • How do you choose the right words
  • How do you incorporate a specific style and flow

For example, you’ve bought a DIY bookshelf from Ikea that you now need to assemble. No matter how often you follow the instructions, you still end up with a half-built shelf that doesn’t look like the picture on the box.

This is what bad writing looks like.

The idea is there.

The words are there.

The visual imagery is there.

But the right structure isn’t.

The goal is to ensure that the reader comprehends what you’re saying—and can absorb that information. To ensure that, structuring your sentences the right way is crucial.

Here’s another way to look at it:

Since writing is integral to every job, you’d have a competitive advantage if you excelled at it. 

Think we’re being dramatic?

Here’s data that says otherwise:

  • The first point of contact for most job applications is a cover letter (even the resume comes second).
  • According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 73.4% of employers want a candidate with strong written communication skills.
  • Content ranks No.1 for jobs with the highest salary increases post-pandemic. 

So, investing the time to learn how to write better sentences could help you communicate well—and excel at whatever you’re doing.

What makes a sentence good?

A good sentence expresses a complete thought. Grammar rules say, “A good sentence contains a subject and a verb and forms an independent clause.” But there’s more to it.

"A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

1. What am I trying to say?
2. What words will express it?
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

1. Could I put it more shortly?
2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”

– Politics and the English Language (Essay), George Orwell

Half your work is done when you know what you want to say and how you want to say it. It’s more about saying the right thing with as few words as possible.

But this is easier said than done. Here are a few mistakes that hold you back from writing solid sentences.

Errors that weaken your sentence structure

1. Use of run-on sentences.

Run-on sentences occur when two complete sentences are joined incorrectly, i.e., without proper punctuation or conjunction. 

While they’re usually identified only when the sentences are too long, they don’t necessarily have to be for them to be considered incorrect.

Example: “Yesterday was a great day my parents and I went out for dinner, ice cream.”

Why it’s wrong: The sentence combines two independent clauses (sentences) and doesn’t include punctuation or conjunction.

Corrected sentence: “Yesterday was a great day! My parents and I went for dinner and ice cream.”

2. Lack of subject-verb agreement.

If the subject of your sentence is singular, your verb should be singular too. If the subject is plural, your verb should be plural too. 

A common mistake writers make is describing singular words with plural verbs and vice versa.

Example: “The list of ideas were at the top of my head.”

Why it’s wrong: As the subject is singular (list), the verb needs to be singular too (was).

Corrected sentence: “The list of ideas was at the top of my head.”

3. Use of unintentional sentence fragments.

When sentences miss a subject, verb, or complete thought, they’re called sentence fragments. 

This is a usual mistake because it’s typical to use them in a conversation—where the context is clear.

Example: “She went to see the new museum. Even though she had a stomach ache.”

Why it’s wrong: The second sentence doesn’t have a subject, and it’s unclear who the subject is and what they’re doing even though they had a stomach ache.

Corrected sentence: “She went to see the new museum even though she had a stomach ache.”

Pro tip: Pop this sentence into Wordtune and get it instantly corrected into a complete sentence (It'll also make it better):

4. Use of overloaded sentences.

A sentence cramming in too much information becomes difficult to follow—losing its clarity. Usually, you can split these sentences into multiple sentences to rectify the issue.

Example: “Writers need to invest time learning the basics of language structure and grammar in order to ensure that they can create pieces that communicate an idea effectively but also ensure that the reader is able to walk away with strong takeaways from said pieces without the need for further clarification.”

Why it’s wrong: The sentence has 50 words which is way more than the recommended length of 20 words. It’s slightly difficult to follow because it communicates more than one idea—a need to learn the basics of writing and how it can help them.

Corrected sentence: “Writers need to invest time in learning the basics of language structure and grammar. It’ll help them create pieces that communicate ideas effectively and ensure that they’re also clear to their readers.”

Pro tip: Again, Wordtune can help you find and filter-out all those unnecessary keywords using the shorten feature. In the example below, the tool reduced the length of the sentence from 50 words to 33 words, all with a click of a button.

5. Use of faulty parallelisms.

When you use the same grammatical form in two or more parts of the sentence, it’s called parallelism. The idea is to use the same structure to maintain consistency in the sentence.

Example: “Every day, I spend two hours exercising and to meditate to help me relax.”

Why it’s wrong: The sentence uses two different structures (-ing and root form of the verb).

Corrected sentence: 

  • “Every day, I spend two hours exercising and meditating to help me relax.”
  • “Every day, I exercise and meditate for two hours to feel relax.”

The elements of a good sentence

According to Grammar rules, all of these are good sentences:

“Hydrophobic plants hate water.”

“The meeting starts at 9 am.”

“My grandmother is sick.”

This is the very basic definition. All these sentences contain a subject, a verb, and an independent clause. But is it enough? 

An actual good sentence has two more criteria:

  1. It leads your narrative forward.
  2. It is clear and concise. 

These two criteria, however, are harder to measure than checking for subjects and verbs. 

But you can learn to implement these, and we’re here to teach you. 

So let’s dig in. 

1. Drive your Narrative Forward

“Every short story must have a single mood, and every sentence must build towards it.” – Edgar Allen Poe

This is true for ALL narratives and, by extension, all sentences. 

Each section in your blog or each chapter in your book should have one mood, and every sentence should build towards it. 

But what keeps sentences from building a narrative?

Fluff. 

Filler content.

Repetition. 

2. Trim the fat in your writing

This is what fluff looks like:

“When you write sentences that are long, drawn-out, and convoluted—only to get a simple point across—your readers will get frustrated and leave.”

See what I did there?

Here’s the alternative: “Unnecessarily long sentences frustrate and distance your readers.”

So, how do you get rid of fluff?

Step 1: Identify all the words that mean the same thing. 

For example, in the above sentence: 

‘Long, drawn-out, and ‘convoluted’ all mean the same thing.

Step 2: Pick the simplest word from the list.

In this case, “long.”

Step 3: See if you can find one word that condenses multiple words or ideas.

For example, the thought that something does XYZ “only to get a simple point across” conveys that the process is not required. 

One word: Unnecessary. 

Let’s look at this with another example: 

Fluffy example: “Creating content can be a laborious task with a thousand moving parts that don’t really belong there.”

Fluff-free example: Crating content can be cumbersome. 

“Laborious,” “a thousand moving parts,” and “[parts] that don’t really belong there” convey the same idea: cumbersomeness. 

After you’ve removed fluff and filler in your sentences, you need to vary sentence length to create a natural rhythm. 

3. Captivate your reader with a rhythm

Short sentences add spunk. Long sentences add value, examples, and context—even if they drag on sometimes. Use both, but strategically. 

Here’s an example:

“Music can delight. It has the power to transport you to a different world. But sometimes, when all is dark, and it’s quiet outside, I see this world through music—and it looks completely different. That’s what makes it great.” 

Alternating sentence length adds a lyrical quality to your writing and helps you keep the reader engrossed in your piece.

4. Evoke emotions with mental imagery

Your sentences need to drive the narrative forward. But that can only happen when you mix facts and emotions to create a powerful one that sticks with your reader.

In addition, the sentence needs to be informative enough to convey everything the reader needs to know.

Here’s an example:

“The loud barks of the rabid dogs sent a chill down the young man’s spine, freezing him on the spot.”

5. Clarity and Brevity

Clarity of thoughts comes through clarity of ideas. 

Whenever you’re writing about a subject, ensure that you spend at least twice the time researching it. It helps you form stronger ideas, back up opinions, and talk knowledgeably about a subject. 

Tips to enhance clarity while writing sentences

1. Use relevant examples.

Examples make things crystal clear for your reader. It removes any ambiguity in their minds and helps you paint a vivid picture in their mind—without using visual imagery.

While examples are great, you know what’s even better? Definitions with examples. 

Here’s what this looks like in action:

Definition: “Low color contrast can make data visuals hard to understand.”

Definition with an example: “Low color contrast — like similar shades of blue paired together — can make data visuals hard to read.”

Here’s another example: 

Definition: “Intelligent workers get infuriated by mindless chores.”

Definition with an example: “Intelligent workers get infuriated by mindless chores like updating calendars, sending check-ins, and scheduling emails.”

2. Avoid modifiers. 

Modifiers add a sliding scale to your claims.

Let’s say one of your children, Claire or Stella has lost the car keys. And your Husband says, “It can’t be Stella; she’s not irresponsible.”

This statement sounds more trustworthy than if he had said, “It can be Stella; she’s not very irresponsible.”

The second sentence induces the subconscious thought, “Stella might be irresponsible, but she’s only a little irresponsible.”

Pro tip (from Mark Twain) for spotting that sneaky ‘very’: Substitute ‘damn’ every time you want to write “very.” Your editor will delete it, and your writing will be just as good. 

3. Avoid passive voice like the plague. 

This is crucial, especially if engagement is your goal. On the other hand, if you’re writing terms and conditions, you can add all the passive voice you want.

Why? It detaches your reader. 

Example of passive voice: “Detachment from readers is caused by passive voice.”

Active voice: “Passive voice detaches your readers.”

Let’s try one, 

Passive voice: “25 qualified leads were generated by the company from their latest blog post.”

Active voice: “The company generated 25 qualified leads from their latest blog post.”

The difference is considerable. Active voice makes you sit up and pay attention. Passive voice sounds like the radio running in the background. 

4. Ensure it has a good flow. 

Writing flows refers to the pace or rhythm of your piece. Good writing has a natural feel to it and avoids unnecessary breaks or repetitions.

Ideally, the reader should find it easy to read the piece without spending too much mental energy on it. 

If your text reads like a car stopping its brakes every five seconds, then it lacks a strong flow and cohesion.

Example: John likes traveling. He often travels for work. He has visited countries in Europe and Asia. His favorite destination is Paris. He loves Paris because of its exquisite food culture. He goes there three times a year.

Corrected example: John likes traveling, and he does so often for work. He has visited many countries in Europe and Asia, but his favorite destination is Paris. He loves it because of its exquisite food culture, so he visits it three times a year.

5. Split long sentences.

This error is similar to writing overloaded sentences, but there’s a distinction between them. The difference is that while overloaded sentences can go on tangents, not all long sentences do.

Long sentences become hard to follow, especially in digital writing. 

Readers tend to have an extremely short attention span, so they don’t want to spend time re-reading and comprehending your simple Slack message.

Example: Technical content usually focuses on niche concepts that serve a specific audience which is why including foundational concepts makes no sense because your audience is already familiar with it, and if you do start at the basics, it will look like you’re patronizing them, which is not the goal.

Corrected example: Technical content usually focuses on niche concepts that serve a specific audience. So, it doesn’t make sense to include foundational concepts as they’re already familiar with them. Including them will look like you’re patronizing them—which is not the goal.

Checklist To Refine Clarity

Refrain from using hyperbole. Terms like:

must-have

regret missing out on

cannot do without

(Why can’t they do without? They absolutely can. The only must-haves are food, water, and air’. Everything else can be done without.)

Not “The ability to write is a must-have for everyone.”

But
“The ability to write ensures clear communication of ideas for professionals in the business world.”

Explain crucial terms when your audience might be unfamiliar with them. 

Not “Critical reasoning enhances your writing.”

But
“Critical reasoning, which is the objective analysis of ideas, enhances the clarity of thought.”

Take your readers on a journey. 

Not “Our product achieves reporting efficiency.”

But
“When you’re eyeballs deep in test results (and struggling to finish), XYZ product takes over. We ensure you have an overview while leaving the manual labor to XYZ’s automation.”

If you must use overly descriptive terms, back them with cold hard facts. 

Explain the descriptions. Don’t keep your readers guessing.

Not “Clarity enhancing checklist.”

But
“An internal report from our 3000 writers showed a 70% decrease in confusion after using ‘Bani's Checklist for Improving Clarity.'”

Expand abbreviations/acronyms in the first instance, as the same acronym could mean different things.

It clarifies who the subject is and removes any ambiguity in the reader's mind.

Not “The A/A program prevents the exclusion of underrepresented communities.”

But
“The Affirmative Action (A/A) program prevents the exclusion of underrepresented communities.”

Be specific. Clarify the why or how to make your sentences clearer.

Not “XYZ product can help you save hundreds of hours spent on manual data cleanup.”

But
“XYZ product can help you save hundreds of hours spent on manual data cleanup by automating the data collection and categorization processes.”

9 tips to continually improve your writing

1. Read as often as you can. 

Good writing gets stored in your brain and finds its way out when you need inspiration. 

But also notice what you're reading—that's how you improve your writing. Summarize articles, rewrite bad sentences; over time, you'll become so good at self-editing that it'll be second nature.

2. Write with your reader in mind. 

This is sometimes hard but always worth it. 

To make this a habit, paste your readers' pain points on top of your document. 

For example, if you're writing a piece on how to take notes and your readers are high school students, the top of your document should read:

"My readers have been taking notes for the last 8-10 years but haven't yet found a way to do it efficiently. 

My readers need notes to make sense of their ever-increasing academic workload. 

My readers need actionable checklists, not generic 'how to's."

Note: It's okay to ask questions and seek clarification when you don't understand something. 

3. Show, don't tell. 

Demonstrate the action of your story, don't just describe it. 

Example: “Lia sprinted down the pebbled street when she saw her father” is better than “Lia ran when she saw her father.”

It paints a vivid picture of Lia's actions without being too fluffy.

4. Practice thinking in threes. 

Three phrases make a good bullet list, complete a thought, and take up just enough space. 

The Rule of Three, a powerful copywriting principle, is based on our ability to retain information that comes in triplets. 

It builds a solid structure for your argument and helps your brain quickly record that information.

Example: “Jason found his passion for writing, quit his job, and launched his independent business in six months.”

5. Break your text down in bullets often. 

This helps you think clearly about your subject matter and add white space between your text blocks.

In this case, you can combine this with the Rule of Three principle to create effective and memorable lists.

Example:

There are several methods to get rid of a cold. In our experience, these remedies offer quick relief:

  • Over-the-counter medication
  • Lots of warm fluids
  • Plenty of rest

6. Combine logic with emotion.

You need to create a healthy balance of facts and emotions. It needs to sound logical, which you can achieve by ensuring subject-verb agreement.

Example: “Dave drove himself into the ditch because it was raining cats and dogs—blurring his vision of the road.”

This sentence combines facts (driving into the ditch) and emotion (raining cats and dogs) in a way that paints a vivid picture while staying true to the facts.

7. Track your verbs.

When you're writing, it's hard to keep track of the various tenses. Plus, you might also use the wrong verbs. These issues can confuse your reader, so track your verbs to avoid them.

For example, if somebody is going to be questioned about their whereabouts, use the verb "questioned," not "asked" or "said".

“Lisa is going to be questioned by the police today about her whereabouts last evening.”

8. Work on your writing crutches.

5 Painful (But Easy to Fix) Content Marketing Mistakes

Everybody (including me) has their own writing crutches. It could be an overuse of certain words, incorrect verbs or descriptors, or anything else you might think of.

The more you write, the better your chances of identifying your writing crutches. 

We recommend reviewing your previous pieces to see what mistakes you make or edits you're receiving from your editors/managers.

It'll help you identify where you're going wrong, and you'll become intentional about how you write.

9. Practice, practice, practice.

You can't become a great writer overnight. It takes months and years of intentional practice to get there. 

In his book, Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read, Brooks Landon mentioned:

"We will do this by studying the ways in which sentences combine information by coordinating it, subordinating it, or subsuming it in modification."

When you put in the time and effort to study the art of crafting a strong sentence, you'll be able to create them soon enough.

Writing good sentences is hard work

Great sentences often follow an obvious pattern. They incorporate the rules of writing with a tinge of creativity to get through to their readers. When you study the basics of sentence structure and practice it regularly, over time, it becomes second nature. 

The only way to get better is to hone your craft by doing three things: 

  • Identifying why your sentences are unclear
  • Making the necessary modifications
  • Refining it with ruthless editing

When you eliminate complexity and clarify what you want to say, crafting the right sentence becomes easier. 

It will not only help you write better sentences, but it can also improve the reader's understanding of what you're trying to say.

P.S.
This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.

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