There’s a definition of insanity that we have all probably heard before – doing the same thing the same way over and over, but expecting a different result each time. So if you’re writing all of your sentences the exact same way every single time, and you expect the finished product to sound more interesting than if you read the same exact sentence word for word over and over again, does that also show insanity? Maybe grammar insanity?
I’m not the only one who thinks that grammar monotony is a real and serious problem. If you’re new around here, you may not know that I studied secondary education and English at Vanderbilt University – which involved multiple classroom experiences as well as a full semester of student teaching – before teaching ninth grade English for a school year. Throughout all of this, I spent a lot of time looking at different student writing samples as well as at Common Core standards and Tennessee state standards.
If your eyes have glazed over, let me translate: 9th and 10th grade students should know and demonstrate standard English grammar when writing or speaking and should be able to vary the types of phrases and sentences they use depending on their meaning and to add variety and interest. What does this mean to me? Anyone above the age of 16 should do this, too, in order to demonstrate their personal writing style and to keep the reader interested.
If you’re over the age of 16, I’m sure you’re wondering by this point if I expect you to undertake a full grammar review just for the heck of it. I don’t. (Unless, of course, you’re a high school or college student, in which case you may want to look into it for your own good.) So here are a couple easy ways to add variety in your writing and what specific impact each step holds.
1. Vary your sentence structure – We don’t really realize it in our everyday writing, but every complete sentence we use follows a formula. There are different types of formulas, all involving dependent or independent clauses and how they are connected. Your personal writing style and voice can really through by how you organize your sentences. (Would you be interested in reading more about this? If there’s enough interest, I may write a separate post entirely about sentence structure.)
2. Vary your sentence length – Too many sentences in a row that are the same length can be boring or choppy, depending on whether they are long sentences or short ones. You may not notice it for what it is, but if your eyes start to glaze over when you read something that should be interesting, you may have your answer. I have seen many situations where all sentences in a blog post or an article online are all extremely long because the author tries to avoid having a whole bunch of short sentences, but the problem is the exact same either way.
Count the sentences in that paragraph. There are 3. It looks like a lot of sentences. Are you surprised? Are you doing it? What is your style?
Count the sentences in that paragraph; there are 6. How do both paragraphs affect how you read them? Usually, paragraphs full of long sentences tend to be long winded, while those full of short sentences tend to feel choppy. Changing things up as you write prevents that!
3. Examine how you use punctuation – This partially goes with the previous 2 points, but also has an additional point. Look through your own writing and see how often you use exclamation points, question marks, semicolons, commas, elipsis, etc. I’ve seen a fair amount of blog posts and pieces of writing where every sentence ends with an exclamation point. You’re excited! That’s awesome! I know you’re excited! That’s so great! Excitement!
Honestly, if you use exclamation points, question marks, or elipsis (…) extremely frequently, it decreases their value. In many cases, you can replace them with a period so that when you do use them, they receive the proper emphasis. You could also rearrange your sentences.
4. Read it out loud – This way, you’ll get a better picture of how your writing sounds. And be sure to give plenty of attention to your punctuation when you read it! This may help you get a good feel for if you need to change that up and in what way.