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This Sentence Has Five Words: Understanding Sentence Variety

19 Nov

What is sentence variety? 

Sentence variety is exactly as it sounds; it involves varying sentence structure, word choice, and style in order to give life, interest, and even rhythm to prose. This strategy can also be used to add emphasis or reduce repetition. It is a great way to maintain reader interest, and to highlight key pieces of information, as long sentences often work well for including a lot of information where shorter sentences help to emphasize a point.

How does sentence variety work? 

There are a few strategies that writers can use to add variety to their sentences, including:

  • Alternating between long and short sentences
  • Utilizing different sentence beginnings
  • Alternating sentence structures (simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex)
  • Using different sentence types (declarative, interrogative, exclamatory, imperative)

Let’s see how it works:

funny-song-five-sentences-music

In This Sentence Has Five Words, the first paragraph is comprised entirely of five word sentences. While this is not initially problematic and they are able to communicate their point somewhat effectively, the experience of reading this paragraph can become quite mundane. Try reading it out loud:

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. 

In the above example, even though they have different sentence openings and different sentence construction, the lack of variety in sentence length is quite noticeable and greatly impacts the reading (or listening) experience. They are making their point sufficiently, but their writing lacks the liveliness and intrigue needed to interest their reader and really get their point across. Look now at the next two passages, and try reading them out loud:

I vary the sentence length and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. 

In the first section, the point is still clearly presented, but the writer has used a variety of sentence constructions and lengths. While the first section does not contain any sentences that are particularly long, the interplay between short sentences and medium length sentences helps to maintain reader interest while also creating a more pleasing listening experience. And finally, look closely at the last long sentence:

And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals – sounds that say listen to this, it’s important. 

While the writer could continue to use a combination of short and medium length sentences to present this idea, the use of a longer sentence helps to build a stronger image, and the construction of this complex sentence keeps the reader moving through the idea and the imagery. As noted, by this point in the passage, the reader is appropriately rested; this means that, as the writer has used a combination of short and medium length sentences up to this point, the reader will not be overwhelmed by the inclusion of long sentences.

Remember, sentence variety can be used to:

  • Add liveliness to writing
  • Create a rhythm between sentences
  • Maintain reader interest
  • Emphasize points

To practice varying sentence beginnings, try your hand at this quiz! And remember, if you need assistance with sentence variety or any other writing concern, feel free to schedule an appointment with the Writing Center!

Transitional Words & How to Use Them

22 May

Transitional words are an easy and concise way to explain to a reader what the relationship is between thoughts, paragraphs, and sentences. Different situations require different transitions, and there are different transitional words to suit these different tasks. Below is a list of some transitional words:

  • To ADD:
    • Also, and, then, as well, besides, beyond that, first (second, third, last), for one thing, furthermore, in addition, moreover, next
  • To CLARIFY:
    • For instance, in other words, that is
  • To COMPARE:
    • Also, as well, both, in the same way, likewise, similarly, like, as
  • To CONTRAST:
    • Although, be that as it may, but even though, however, in contrast, nevertheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, whereas, yes
  • To CONCEDE A POINT:
    • Certainly, granted that, no doubt, of course
  • To EMPHASIZE:
    • Above all, especially, in fact, in particular, indeed, most important, most of all, surely
  • To ILLUSTRATE:
    • As a case in point, as an illustration, for example, for instance, in particular, one such, yet another
  • To PLACE IN SPACE:
    • Above, next to, beside, below, beyond, further, here, inside, nearby, next to, on the far side, outside, to the east (north, south, west)
  • To PLACE IN TIME:
    • After a while, afterward, at last, at present, briefly, currently, during, eventually, finally, first (second, third, last), gradually, immediately, in the future, later, meanwhile, now, recently, soon, suddenly, today, yesterday
  • To QUALIFY:
    • Perhaps
  • To GIVE REASON TO:
    • As, because, for, since
  • To SHOW A RESULT:
    • And so, as a consequence, as a result, because of this, consequently, for this reason, hence, so, therefore, thus
  • To SUMMARIZE:
    • All in all, finally, in brief, in conclusion, in other words, lastly, on the whole, to sum up

Now, how do we use these transitional words? Let’s walk through a few different examples:

  • You have to write an argument essay. You need to include three or four supporting points in favor of your argument, and you want to make sure to transition carefully between each supporting point so that your reader seamlessly follows your argument. After introducing your argument in your introduction (complete with a concrete thesis statement), you could introduce your different body paragraphs with a transitional word, like “First”, “Second”, “Third” and so on.
  • You have to write a report detailing the steps that you performed to achieve a desired outcome. In order to make sure that your reader is able to follow along with your discussion of the steps that you performed, you can use transitional words to move from one body paragraph to another. You could use words like “First”, “Second”, “Third” and so on, but you could also use words like “Afterward”, “Briefly”, etc., to illustrate the process.
  • You have to write a final essay for class where you illustrate and summarize what you have learned this semster. You would want to begin with a strong introduction, of course, and then progress into your illustration in your body paragraphs. At this point, you would likely reflect on a concept that you learned, and include an example to illustrate it. To transition into that example, you could use “For example,” “For instance”, and so on. Then, when you reach your conclusion, you would likely want to summarize your overall experience. Here, you could use transitional words to help you, including “All in all,” “Finally,” “Lastly”, etc.  

Direct Quotations & Stand-Alone Quotations

25 Feb

A direct quotation is a “report of the exact words used in a discourse” or something someone said or wrote, exactly as it originally appeared. Typically, we use direct quotations in our writing to emphasize a point or provide an example, establish credibility, or illustrate a concept. When we come across something in a text that we want to use in our writing, we include it by formatting it with double quotation marks around it to indicate it is a direct quotation.

For example, let’s say we are writing a paper for one of our classes and we are considering this article as a possible source. In the article, we see some interesting information that we would like to use in our paper:

Researchers found that women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations who protectively had their ovaries removed reduced their risk of ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer by 80%, and their overall risk of death by 77%.

Let’s say that we really like the wording of our sentence, and we want to include it in our paper as a direct quotation. We know that we would need to include a parenthetical citation (in either APA Style or MLA Style, depending on our instructor’s specifications), and we know that we need to put double quotation marks around the quotation to indicate that it is a direct quotation:

“Researchers found that women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations who protectively had their ovaries removed reduced their risk of ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer by 80%, and their overall risk of death by 77%” (Falco & Ford, 2014, p. 12).

While our quotation is a complete sentence and is therefore grammatically correct, we still have one final thing to consider. As it appears above, our quotation has become a stand-alone quotation. It is grammatically correct, it is formatted appropriately, and it is properly cited, but it needs a little bit more.

Stand-alone quotations happen when we include a direct quotation without using some of our own writing to connect that quotation to the rest of the paragraph. Although it is grammatically correct, appropriately formatted, and properly cited, we need to use some of our own writing at the beginning or the end of the sentence to tie the quotation into our writing and to eliminate the stand-alone quotation. For example:

According to the article Study: Women with BRCA1 mutations should remove ovaries by 35, “Researchers found that women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations who protectively had their ovaries removed reduced their risk of ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer by 80%, and their overall risk of death by 77%” (Falco & Ford, 2014, p. 12).

How we tie-in the direct quotation is up to us as writers. In the above example, we used it as a place to identify the title of the article – which is a great strategy if we are mentioning the source for the first time. In other situations, we may tie-in the quotation by analyzing it or working it into the natural flow of our sentence. The options are endless – but we need that tie-in to avoid leaving the quotation standing alone!

Topic Sentences

27 Nov

Last week, we took a look at thesis statements. Just as the thesis statement establishes the main idea and focus for the complete essay, topic sentences establish the main idea and focus for the individual body paragraphs within the essay. Topic sentences also provide a place for the writer to connect that body paragraph back to the thesis statement; utilizing these components effectively can help to produce a cohesive piece of writing.

In academic writing, the topic sentence is typically the very first sentence in the body paragraph. Readers look to this first sentence to establish the focus of the paragraph, and every sentence that follows should connect back to the topic sentence. As each body paragraph should develop one point or idea, writers need to make sure that they first provide a strong topic sentence to start off the body paragraph, and that they do not deviate from the topic identified in their topic sentence by introducing new ideas or information as they develop the body paragraph. If a writer uncovers a new idea or point while constructing the body paragraph, they can revise the topic sentence (if appropriate) or develop a new paragraph (complete with a new topic sentence) to address that new point/idea.

Tips & Tricks for Topic Sentences:

  • Topic sentences should identify a claim. Thesis statements need to be defensible, and it is through body paragraphs that writers can begin to defend the thesis. Beginning each body paragraph with the claim or point that it is developing in support of the thesis statement allows writers to clearly show their argument.
  • Think of topic sentences as minature thesis statements. Try to capture the main idea of that paragraph, and its relevance to the essay as a whole, within the topic sentence.    
  • Start each body paragraph off with a strong topic sentence and follow it with reasons or examples that illustrate or develop the point or claim. An example, from The University of Ottawa’s Writing Center:  
    • Topic Sentence: Many fast food chains make their profits from adding a special ingredient called “forget sauce” to their foods.
      • This topic sentence identifies the overall focus or claim of the paragraph – “forget sauce”. Every sentence that follows will connect back to this main idea in some way.
    • Supporting Sentences: Made largely from edible oil products, this condiment is never listed on the menu. In addition, this well-kept industry secret is the reason why ingredients are never listed on the packaging of victuals sold by these restaurants. “Forget sauce” has a chemical property which causes temporary amnesia in consumers. After spending too much money on barely edible food bereft of any nutritional value, most consumers swear they will never repeat such a disagreeable experience. Within a short period, however, the chemical in “forget sauce” takes effect, and they can be depended upon to return and spend, older but no wiser.
      • All of the supporting sentence expand on the idea of “forget sauce” that is introduced in the topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph. After effectively detailing and discussing “forget sauce”, the writer wraps up their body paragraph and prepares to transition into the next idea.
  • If you are having trouble constructing sound topic sentences, first determine the main point or claim for the body paragraph. If you notice more than one claim, consider if the two ideas are connected and need to be handled together, or if they should be split up into two separate body paragraphs. Once you have a clear idea of the main idea or claim for the body paragraph, try to capture that main idea in a statement, and tweak that statement until you have a strong topic sentence.
  • As always, feel free to visit the Writing Center or set up an online appointment for assistance! We are always happy to help!

MLA Style & In-text Citations

23 Oct

In a previous post, Style Guides & How to Use Them, we discussed the APA style, MLA style, and Chicago style guides and how to use them, noting some of the similarities and differences between the three styles. Regardless of which style a writer is using, whenever information from an outside source is included, an in-text citation is needed. The construction of the in-text citation varies according to the style guide the writer is using.

MLA Style & In-Text Citations

In MLA Style, outside information is cited within a text using an author-page number citation system, where the writer includes the author’s (or authors’) last name and the page number where the information appeared in the publication. As the “Documenting Sources” chapter in A Writer’s Reference notes “MLA recommends in-text citations that refer the readers to a list of works cited. A typical in-text citation names the author of the source, often in a signal phrase, and gives a page number in parentheses. At the end of the paper, a list of works cited provides publication information about the source” (Hacker and Sommers 388-89).

The above quotation from Hacker and Sommers would correspond with the following Works Cited entry:

Hacker, Diana and Nancy L. Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. Print.

Any source used within the text, whether included in the form of a quotation, summary, or paraphrase, must be referenced with an in-text citation in the text itself, and with the corresponding full citation in the Works Cited list at the end of the text.

As Hacker and Sommers discuss in A Writer’s Reference, there are different ways that writers can include this citation information within the body of their writing. First, writers can choose to include the author’s name in a signal phrase. A signal phrase is a phrase, clause, or sentence that introduces a quotation, paraphrase, or summary. Including the author’s name in a signal phrase prepares readers for the source and allows writers to include only the page number in the parenthetical citation. For example:

Frederick Lane reports that employers do not necessary have to use software to monitor how their employees use the Web: employers can “use a hidden video camera pointed at an employee’s monitor” and even position a camera “so that a number of monitors [can] be viewed at the same time” (147).

Since Frederick Lane is the name of the author, and the writer has used his name in the signal phrase within the actual sentence, only the page number is included in the parenthetical citation. If a signal phrase does not name the author, then both the author’s last name and the page number need to be included in parentheses at the end of the sentence; no punctuation is needed between the author’s last name and the page number. For example:

Companies can monitor employees’ every keystroke without legal penalty, but they may have to combat low morale as a result (Lane 129).

In the previous example, the writer chose not to include Lane’s last name within the sentence itself, so both the last name and the page number must appear in the parenthetical citation. Often, the author’s name is used in the signal phrase when information from the source is first included – and many writers also incorporate the title of the publication as well. In subsequent references, writers can choose between the above examples according to their preference.

MLA Style in-text citations differ slightly when dealing with sources with no known author or page number. When dealing with a source without a known author, use the complete title when referencing the source in a signal phrase, and use a shortened version of the title when referencing the source in parentheses. For example:

According to the article “10 Minute Vegetable Chili,” not only is the dish delicious and vegetarian friendly, it is also “healthy and super easy to make” (3).

Vegetable chili, a delicious and vegetarian friendly dish, is “healthy and super easy to make” (“10 Minute” 3).

When dealing with a source without a known page number, such as a Web source, do not include the page number in the parenthetical citation. If using a PDF of an article available through a website, use the page number included in the PDF. If a source does not have page numbers but does include numbered paragraphs (“par.” or “pars.”) or sections (“sec.” or “secs.”), use these in place of the page number in the parenthetical citation. For example:

As a 2005 study by Salary.com and American Online indicates, the Internet ranked as the top choice among employees for ways of wasting time on the job; it beat talking with co-workers – the second most popular method – by a margin of nearly two to one (Frauenheim).

Or:

As Jacobs explains, “[t]he stretch of Hudson Street where I live is each day the scene of an intricate sidewalk ballet” (par. 2).

Notes on MLA Style in-text citations:

  • When including a quotation in the text, it will appear as either a long quotation or a short quotation.
    • A long quotation is any quotation that is longer than four typed lines of prose (most standard writing) or three typed lines of verse (plays, poems, song lyrics, etc.). Set off long quotations by indenting and double-spacing the entire quotation. Quotation marks are not needed, but an in-text citation should follow.
    • A short quotation is any quotation that is shorter than four typed lines of prose or three lines of verse. Short quotations are included as a part of the original sentence, with the quoted material surrounded by quotations marks and an in-text citation at the end of the sentence.
  • When using a work with multiple authors:
    • Two authors: Name the authors in the signal phrase or include their last names in parentheses.
      • Kizza and Ssanyu note… (2).
      • (Kizza and Ssanyu 2).
    • Three authors: Name the authors in the signal phrase or include their last names in parentheses, separating their last names with commas.
      • Alton, Davies, and Rice… (56).
      • (Alton, Davies, and Rice 56).
    • Four or more authors: Name all of the authors or include only the first author’s name followed by “et al.” The format that you use should match the format in your Works Cited entry.
      • (Blaine, Martin, Smith and Springer 35)
      • (Blaine et al. 35)
  • Sometimes, an organization or corporation may be the author of the source. Name the organization or corporation in the signal phrase or parenthetical citation.
    • According to a 2001 survey of human resources managers by the American Management Association…. (2).
    • According to a 2001 survey of human resources managers… (American Management Association 2).

First, Second, and Third Person

16 Oct

When completing any writing assignment, it is important to choose the right tone. Determining whether you will use first, second, or third-person can help you choose your tone and maintain it throughout your assignment.

  • First-Person: The first-person point of view is used primarily for autobiographical writing. We tend to use first-person when we are writing about ourselves. We may find this type of writing in journals, memoirs, novels, autobiographies, short stories, and reflective pieces.
    • Pronouns: I, We, Me, Us, My, Mine, Our, Ours,
    • Example, Singular: I am looking forward to the concert tonight.
    • Example, Plural: We are looking forward to going to the movies next weekend.
  • Second-Person: The second-person point of view is used primarily to address the reader. We tend to use second-person when we are writing a letter or note to someone, or when we are providing them with instructions.
    • Pronouns: You, Your, Yours
    • Example, Singular: You should do the first three problems for homework.
    • Example, Plural: Class, your homework is due on Friday.
  • Third Person: The third-person point of view is the most common point of view. The third-person point of view removes the writer from the writing and offers a more objective viewpoint. It is frequently used in academic or professional writing, but can also be found in novels.
    • Pronouns: He, Him, His, She, Her, Hers, It, Its, They, Them, Theirs
    • Example, Singular: He found the book quite interesting.
    • Example, Plural: They were able to produce the necessary information quickly.

General Tips:

  • When in doubt, use third-person. This is particularly true for academic writing, as third-person is often considered the most professional.
  • When using third-person, you do not have to limit yourself to using only the listed pronouns. For example, we might write something like this: “A nurse can use critical thinking to better care for his or her patients.” Here, we have used a title (“nurse”) and third-person pronouns (“his” and “her”) to complete our third-person sentence.
  • The uses for second-person are very limited. You will likely not use this style of writing in an academic or professional situation, unless you need to provide specific instructions to a particular group (like in a Process Analysis assignment).
  • First-person can be used in situations where its use will provide clarity for the reader. If you are unsure if your instructor will accept a first-person assignment, ask them!
  • When choosing between first, second, and third-person, keep in mind your purpose and audience. Reflective writing or writing addressing personal experience may utilize first-person even if it is for an academic course, although a third-person approach can also work and may be preferable depending on the assignment. Research-based work, like a research paper, often benefits from third-person writing.

Understanding In-Text Citations: APA Style

23 Sep

In a previous post, Style Guides & How to Use Them, we discussed the APA style, MLA style, and Chicago style guides and how to use them, noting some of the similarities and differences between the three styles. Regardless of which style a writer is using, whenever information from an outside source is included, an in-text citation is needed. The construction of the in-text citation varies according to the style guide the writer is using.

APA Style & In-Text Citations

In APA style, outside information is cited within a text using an author-date citation system, where the writer includes the author’s (or authors’) last name (without suffixes, such as Jr.) and the year of publication. As the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2010) explains, “[t]his style of citation briefly identifies the source for the reader and enables them to locate the source of information in the alphabetical reference list” (p. 174) at the end of the text. Any source used within the text must be referenced with an in-text citation in the text itself, and a full citation in the reference list.

Writers have different options when including in-text citations. While the author’s last name and the year of publication must appear where the source is used, writers can integrate this material in a variety of ways. For example:

Among epidemiological samples, Kessler (2003) found that early onset social anxiety disorder results in a more potent and severe course. …The study also showed that there was a high rate of comorbidity with alcohol abuse or dependence and major depression (Kessler, 2003).

In the above example, the writer included their in-text citation in two different ways. First, they note the author’s last name in their initial sentence to introduce the source that they are incorporating. The year, in parenthesis, then appears after the author’s last name. At the end of their paragraph, they include a paraphrase from the same source, but they do not include the author’s last name as part of the sentence itself. In this case, both the author’s last name and the year must appear in the parenthetical citation.

When a writer is included a direct quotation (as opposed to a summary or paraphrase of the information from the source), they need to include the author’s last name, the year of publication, and the page number/s where the quoted material appears in the source. The parenthetical citation containing the page number must directly follow the quote itself, while the other information may be included in different areas. For example:

Confusing this issue is the overlapping nature of roles in palliative care, whereby “medical needs are met by those in the medical disciplines; nonmedical needs may be addressed by anyone on the team” (Calaski & Chaitin, 2006, p. 112).

In 2006, Calaski & Chaitin discussed the overlapping nature of roles in palliative care, noting that “medical needs are met by those in the medical disciplines; nonmedical needs may be addressed by anyone on the team” (p. 112).

Calaski & Chaitin (2006) commented on the overlapping nature of roles in palliative care by explaining that “medical needs are met by those in the medical disciplines; nonmedical needs may be addressed by anyone on the team” (p. 112).

In the first example, the writer does not mention the authors’ last names in the sentence, so they must include the authors’ last names, the year, and the page number where the quoted material appeared in their parenthetical citation – (Calaski & Chaitin, 2006, p.112). In the second example, the writer includes the authors’ last names and the year in the sentence itself, so they need only include the page number in their parenthetical citation – (p. 112). In the last example, the authors’ last names are included in the sentence, and the year follows. The parenthetical citation noting the page number should always appear directly after the quoted material.

Notes on APA style in-text citations:

  • When using a long quotation (of 40 or more words) the quoted material should be included as a free-standing block of text, and the writer should omit the quotation marks. The block quotation will begin on a new line, and it should be indented ½” from the left margin (like beginning a new paragraph). Each line of the quoted passage is indented.
  • When using a work with multiple authors, follow these rules:
    • Two authors: cite both names every time the reference occurs in the text.
      • Example: (Smith & Carter, 2005, p. 12)
  • Three, four, or five authors: cite all authors the first time the reference occurs in the text. In subsequent citations, include only the last name of the first author followed by “et al.” and the year. 
    • Example: First: (Kisangau, Lyaruu, Hosea, and Joseph, 2007, p. 10)
    • Example: Subsequent: (Kisangau et al., 2007, p. 10)
  • Six or more authors: cite only the last name of the first author followed by “et al.” and the year in the first and all subsequent citations.
    • Example: (Davis et al., 2012, p. 20)
    • Writers should not omit citations embedded within the original material that they are quoting.  It is not necessary to include the additional source within the list of references (unless the noted source is used as a primary source elsewhere in the text).
      • Example: “In the United States, the American Cancer Society (2007) estimated that about 1 million cases of NMSC and 59,940 cases of melanoma would be diagnosed in 2007, with melanoma resulting in 8,110 deaths” (Miller et al., 2009, p. 209).
      • Many electronic sources do not provide page numbers. If paragraph numbers are visible or available, use them in place of page numbers, using para instead of p. – (para. 4).
      • Chapter 6 in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association includes more information and examples for different writing and citing situations.