5 Steps for Writing Better Sentences

I am obsessed with writing. This should be a natural preoccupation for every historian.

After all, we need to convey our fascination with past people, places, ideas, and events in a compelling way so that others realize the importance of history and its relevance to the present.

Writing-StyleTo write better prose, I am learning how to become a better editor both through reading books on writing and by taking workshops at Grub Street in Boston.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a class called "Better Sentences Now" where instructor Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich presented a 5-step process to writing better sentences.


1. Eliminate Vagueness and Ambiguity of Prose

  • Look for generic & plural words
  • Ask, what do I really mean exactly?

This step requires you to think about word choice. For example, when I write "elite of Albany" in a sentence, do I fully convey that I mean the city's political and financial leaders? Specific and explicit language describes exactly the scene you wish to paint and conveys the definitions you want to make.


2. Verbs

  • Ask, is this verb as evocative & informative as a it could be or would a more specific verb add information?


3.  Adverbs

  • Adverbs compensate for a lack of development in another area. Cut the adverb. If you can't, then you have failed to build the information you are trying to convey in that adverb elsewhere in your piece.


4. Adjectives

  • Is there a more specific noun that would convey the meaning of the adjective more directly?
  • Is it the expected adjective? If so, think about cutting it.
  • Do I really need this adjective?


5. Look out for Pronouns


  • Do you use like pronouns before you ID what it refers to?
  • Does the same pronoun change meaning within the span of a few sentences? Or within the same sentence?
  • It was a sunny day--What does this sentence mean? Be more specific and convey the same meaning.

Additionally, Marzano-Lesnevich stated that editing is a multi-step process; writers won't see excess adverbs while they look for vague words. Moreover, editing should be time consuming and should be handled with great care. Editors publish prose that contains sentences where every word works and therefore communicates more understanding to its readers.