class log stamp

GEN 100

Writing Workshop

Writing Sentences

This is a difficult problem for many LCJ students.

For many years, I received essays with terrible sentences, malformed and confused. The problem was that there was no specific problem I could identify. It was not just a simple grammar error that I could point out. The only way to mark these sentences is to say they are "awkward," "confused," or "unclear."

However, correcting these sentences is not easy; it is usually best to simply rewrite them: remember the idea you intended to express, delete the sentence you wrote, and write a new, clearer sentence more carefully.

Here are some real-life examples of such sentences:

Nature power made my woe get be more easy one.

You can know how the person kind and thinking of you by the action.

In other words, we should not do disgusting things to people that also we become offensive if we are done the same things by other people.

My dog is a terrible silly my younger villain sister. Most terrible thing that she made was drunk.

Why Do Students Write Poorly Formed Sentences?

I believe that poorly-formed sentences are mostly caused by the complexity of writing in a foreign language. When you write in English, you are doing several different, highly complex tasks: (1) you are expressing an idea in a different language, choosing the words to express yourself correctly; (2) you are trying to express an idea; (3) you are trying to speak to an audience, choosing words they will understand and react well to; and (4) you are trying to form a well-structured, grammatically correct sentence.

I believe that students have so much trouble doing the first step that they do not pay enough attention to the other steps. It's kind of like patting your head while rubbing your stomach and reciting a speech from memory; it's hard to concentrate and do all correctly at the same time.

Another reason for poorly-formed sentences is what you could call "Academitis," or "an urge to sound more educated." People believe that academic writing must be complex and use difficult language. As I pointed out before, this is not true. Your writing should be clear and concise, not wordy and confusing.

Sometimes students try to be more expressive than they are able. In a desire to be poetic, they dive into dictionaries and pull out very subtle, flowery language. Don't do that, at least not yet. Learn to make yourself clear first; you will get better grades with clarity than you will get with artistry.

How Can I Fix Poorly Structured Sentences?

One method: start with simplicity. Instead of writing the complete, final sentence, try beginning with just the basics—the subject and predicate. This has two benefits: first, it makes you focus on the core meaning of the sentence, and second, it is harder to make grammar mistakes.

Take the sentence from the examples above:

"We should not do disgusting things to people that also we become offensive if we are done the same things by other people."

You will note that this sentence has three clauses and a few passive forms, which should also be avoided. Try to boil it down to the basic independent clause:

Do not do disgusting things to people.

Even this is too complex. "Do disgusting things"? Is that concise? First, you should avoid the word "things." Next, why use the word "disgusting"? Does that cover your whole meaning? We want to begin as simple as possible. Try this:

Do not mistreat people.

That's much better! Now, we can add to that sentence. The dependent clauses "[things] that also we become offensive if we are done the same things by other people" seems to be saying that we would not like it if other people do such things to us. The problem is, it is a very long relative clause, and uses passive forms. Can we change that to a simpler adverbial dependent clause?

Do not mistreat people, because other people should not mistreat you.

That's not too bad, but it does not express the idea so clearly. By now, it is becoming clear that the whole idea will be very complex. At this time, you should think about breaking the idea into two or three sentences:

Do not mistreat people. If others mistreated you, you would not like it.

That's better! Now that you have the basic structure set, you can make changes in style:

You should not treat people unkindly. After all, if others mistreated you, you would be offended.

Now go back and read the original sentence. Can you see a difference in the clarity? You can still add more style changes and still be clear:

You should never treat people unkindly or unfairly. After all, if someone hurt or cheated you, you would think that person was rotten. Do you want to be that person?

Notice that this is not just about length; it is about wording your sentences simply and clearly, with good basic structure.

Another Example

How about this sentence:

After becoming a working member of society, there is actually no frame of humanity course or science course. This is a tall talk, for instance, a student whose major is psychology can be a bank clerk.

Part of the problem here is vocabulary: what do "frame" and "tall talk" mean? To help understand, we should again boil the meaning down:

Some courses do not help your career.

Notice that I keep the sentence as simple as possible: no example, as few modifiers as possible. I tried to identify the subject, the verb, and the complement.

The effect is obvious: the meaning of the sentence is now much more clear. Now you can start adding:

Some college courses, such as Biology and Humanities, might not be immediately useful in your career.

Next, the example. The one given originally might not be so good, as you might imagine a bank teller could use a knowledge of psychology to deal with customers. I will try to use an example which is more clearly mismatched:

Some college courses, such as Biology and Humanities, might not be immediately useful in your career. For instance, a bank clerk will not use skills from a Music Appreciation course.

Complexity and Conciseness

Try this sentence:

Each person takes a meal whatever they like using prefers time.

The writer was trying to express the idea that, in a family, not everyone has to eat at the same time. Different family members could eat at times that are convenient to them.

How can this be made more simple? Again, boil it down:

Each person eats when they like.

Notice the use of simpler language: "eat" instead of "takes a meal." Also notice that "whatever they like using prefers time" really just equals "when they like." In this case, the problem was really just about being concise. Looking at the revised sentence, you can see that it is now not necessary to add anything. It is a complete idea.

Wording

Here is a more clear example of wording being a problem:

It takes expensive cost.

This is confusing because the expression is unusual, and the reader might think there is a special meaning to this expression. Really, this is what was intended:

It is expensive.

Modular Sentence Building

Instead of fixing poorly-written sentences, it is much better to begin by writing well-formed sentences in the first place!

Since most students have a problem with long sentences, the best way to start is to write only the base, core elements of the sentence: the subject, predicate, and complement. Do not try to make a long, detailed sentence; instead, just write the central idea only.

For example, instead of trying to write the sentence, Bundled up in warm clothing, Gerard carefully and skillfully set up his professional-quality telescope in the mountain clearing, despite the chilly winds, just write: Gerard set up his telescope. The longer version would be very difficult for a non-native speaker to accomplish; the shorter sentence is relatively easy!

After you write the easy sentence, then you can add the details (adjuncts) which make the sentence come alive.

Doctor Doggie and Mister Ponta

Nice Ponta Evil Ponta

Take these very basic S-V-C sentences:

My dog is mercurial.

He is gentle, then he is mean.

He is sleepy, but then he is full of energy.

He greets a person, then barks at their dog.

I will begin by adding an appositive and some time expressions, including prepositional phrases and a subordinate clause:

My dog, Ponta, is mercurial.

One moment he is gentle, then the next moment, he is mean.

He is often sleepy for hours at a time, but then, in an instant, he is full of energy.

While taking a walk, he greets a person, then immediately barks at their dog.

Next, I will add participial phrases to give small examples and fill in some specifics:

My dog, Ponta, is mercurial.

One moment he is gentle, cuddling and snuggling, then the next moment, he is mean, barking and sniping.

He is often sleepy for hours at a time, but then, in an instant, he is full of energy, running all over the house.

While taking a walk, he greets a person, wagging his tail, then immediately barks at their dog.

Next, I will add some modifiers to include some colorful details:

My dog, Ponta, is mercurial.

One moment he is quietly gentle, cuddling and snuggling, then the next moment, he is mean, angrily barking and sniping.

He is often sleepy for hours at a time, but then, in an instant, he is full of endless energy, running wildly all over the house.

While taking a walk, he calmly greets a person, happily wagging his cute little tail, then immediately barks at their dog.

Finally, I will look at word choice, including verb phrases (note I may change added words):

My dog, Ponta, is mercurial.

One moment he is tender and gentle, cuddling and snuggling, then the next moment, he is a beast, angrily barking and sniping.

He is often sleepy for hours at a time, but then, in an instant, he can be full of endless energy, running wildly all over the house.

While taking a walk, he might calmly greet a person, happily wagging his cute little tail, then he will immediately start barking at their dog.

As you can see, the final result is far better—but it was easy to keep the grammar safe.