High School Writing Sydney

Why the Humble Sentence Matters

‘You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal’. – James Baldwin

High School Writing Sydney

An essay is a series of interconnected sentences. We can talk about how to structure sentences, and about introductions and conclusions, and about any aspects of the essay as a whole. And this is all important. But we should not overlook the sentences, the basic building block of all writing.

George Orwell said we should have written prose like a window pane, we see straight through the writing to see the author’s message. This can seem easy, but it easy for the reader, not the writer. The author goes to a lot of effort to make things easy for the reader. If a student can write an essay that makes things easy for the examiner, and has something worth saying, they will do well.

Ernest Hemingway said that the prose is like an iceberg, the larger part is unseen, but it is has an effect. Sentences, even very simple ones, can imply a lot of information along with the literal statement they make. If we master this then we can produce concise sentences that are easy to read, yet convey a lot of information, and perhaps emotion and persuasion.

– Be succinct – You appreciate this when reading. So write that way.
– Who? What? Where? When? Why? Can you answer this is a sentence, or two.
– Speak in concrete terms, creating a visual picture. The vine was avocado green and as thick as a arm.
– Evoke emotion, to make the reader care.
– Avoid long ‘run on’ sentences, which have several ‘and’s, buts, commas, and conjunctions, unless this is creative writing or melodramatic speech.
– Active sentences are better 95% of the time. Passive might work for science lab reports, or background information. Occasionally a passive sentence works in a certain context.
– Only use difficult or technical works when they are relevant to the subject you are writing about. Don’t show off you Brobdingnagian vocabulary.
– Grammar is important in academic writing, but clarity is more important. So if you find a clear way to express an idea that bends the rules, go ahead. And certainly avoid any sentence that is awkward, even as it is grammatically correct.

High School Writing Sydney

Mastering our written language will benefit every subject that we study. We start from the humble sentence, and build the concise, structured essay.

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