How Do I Make My Writing Sophisticated?

But, how do I make my writing sophisticated? 

I hear these kinds of questions, especially from high school or university students.  They feel that their writing should now “sound” more intelligent, so they add all kinds of words, clauses, and phrases that tend to do quite the opposite!

Here are better ways to improve the quality of your writing:

Make your writing clear. light-bulb-clear-bayonet-fitting-725x544

Make your writing concise.

Make your writing understandable

Provide support, detail, explanations, anecdotes, and so forth to help the reader understand your argument, point of view, or opinion. Spend time to fully understand your own thoughts and connections to the material so that you can write about the ideas intelligently.

These are far more important than complicating the issue.

When students, or any writers for that matter, force their writing – the quality becomes worse.  Making something “sound” more complicated than it really is does not help the reader (or the teacher ) in any way.

Your ideas can be original and attractive, but they don’t heed to be mired in arcane language or complicated sentence structures that lead the reader nowhere.

I have read students’ essays that aim to impress, but the writing is so convoluted that the meaning is lost.  When I ask them to explain, they often say, “I’m really not sure what I meant, but doesn’t it sound good?” Their hope is that the teacher or professor will find something in that mess to admire.  This is a very poor method!Ernest Hemmingway

Some of the best writers, in fact, make a concerted effort to ensure that their writing is as uncomplicated as possible. That does not mean “dumbing-down” (as one of my students said to me recently).  It means that you are doing your job to help the reader comprehend your intentions.

It is the ideas and thoughts that are important.  You want the reader to be impressed, or at least persuaded, by your argument, opinion, or description.

If the reader does not understand your work, he or she will not be impressed.  (Although I have heard people say, “He must be a great writer, I couldn’t understand a word of it!”)

Work on sentence structure and grammar.  Make sure you follow the basic rules and conventions of writing.  Don’t think of the rules as restrictive. Recognize that they actually free the rest of your mind to be creative in thought, networking ideas, and expounding upon your take on a particular topic.

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Brush up on the basics and apply them well, and you will see higher grades.  Better yet, the quality of your writing will continue to improve.

Of course, as you become more proficient, you might notice that your sentences are longer and more “sophisticated,” but they retain the clarity of purpose as well.

Most of all – keep writing!

As with any skill, you get better with practice, especially if you pay attention to the weak spots.  Try to take on constructive advice and make the necessary adjustments to keep reading-86070_1920improving.

For more information, lessons, and programs check out the website.

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This week’s video:  “How Do I Make My Writing Sophisticated?”

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Run-on Sentences Ahhhh!

Run-on Sentences Ahhhh!  emotions-2167461_640

When you proofread and edit your work…

WHAT!

Yes, you should always proofread and edit your work. Do not be afraid of putting a little extra effort in.  It will pay off in the long run.

Let’s try that again, shall we?

When you proofread and edit your work, watch for run-on sentences, and make the necessary corrections.

A run-on sentence is basically two or more sentences written as if they were one.

” Once upon a time, there was an evil tutor named Ron he always asked us to proofread and edit our work even when we thought our sentences and spelling were perfect he is so mean.”

The sentence above should actually be three sentences instead of one.  Look for subjects and predicates and any connections.  (If you are not sure about subjects and predicates, check out my Basic English Writing course.)

For example, this sentence is a run-on:  “Susan loves to dance she loves the movementbalance-3223319_640 she is so graceful.”  (There are three separate subjects and predicates incorrectly joined.)

Here is a possible correction: “Susan loves to dance because she loves the movement, and she is so graceful.”

You can see that it is still one sentence. The subordinating word “because” and the coordinating conjunction “and” with a comma correct the problems in the first version.

Many students think that a run-on sentence is simply a long sentence.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Some very long sentences are not run-on sentences.  If the phrases and clauses are joined correctly and all well related, then there is no problem with being long.

Also, a short sentence can be a run-on sentence.

For example:  “He fell down he cried.”  This short sentence is a run-on.

Here are four solutions:  “He fell down.  He cried.”cry-2764843_640

“He fell down, and he cried.”

“He fell down and cried.”

“He fell down; he cried.”

(Most teachers don’t like joining independent clauses with a semicolon, so I recommend avoiding this method, although it is technically correct if the clauses are very short and closely related.)

Note that my sentence within parenthesis is fairly long, but it is not a run-on!

A full sentence should be one complete thought.  Of course, you can have many adjectives, adverbs, and even clauses and phrases that add interest to your sentence. They must, however, be incorporated correctly.

When proofreading your work, watch for run-on sentences, and use one of these methods to edit:

  1. Separate the independent clauses (sentences) with end punctuation.
  2. Use a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) to join them.
  3. Use a conjunctive adverb such as “however” or “therefore” to join them.
  4. Use a subordinating word such as “although’ or “because” to make one of the clauses dependent.
  5. Rewrite the sentence so that one independent clause (sentence) is turned into a phrase, adjective, or adverb.  (Note example above could become:  “He fell down crying.”)

Need more help?

Contact me to set up some personal programs for you or your child.

Don’t forget the Basic English Writing course.  Register, and you will receive discounts for several of my other courses, too! Tutoring Central blog

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This week’s video:  Run-on Sentences

Topic Sentences – Location, Location, Location!

Topic Sentences – Location, Location, Location!

At the beginning.

In blogs, videos, and my courses, I have often mentioned that the topic sentence of a sunrise-1756274_640paragraph should be at the beginning of the paragraph – often the first sentence.

While this is true in many cases, it does not HAVE to be the first sentence of a paragraph.  When writing essays for grade school or secondary school, teachers generally expect the topic sentence of body paragraphs to come at the beginning. The concluding paragraph has a restated or modified thesis statement at the beginning, and this serves as its topic sentence. Of course, the introductory paragraph is a bit of an exception.  It often starts with a “grabber” and/or focus statement, and the thesis statement (serving as the overarching topic sentence) comes at the end of the paragraph.

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For most stand-alone paragraph writing exercises in school, the expectation is for a topic sentence at or near the very beginning of the paragraph as well.

Whew!

Having said all that, topic sentences can come at any point within a paragraph – even in academic writing at times.

At the end.

You can place the central idea at the end after several supporting sentences that have end-812226_640made the case for your argument or point of view. This can be especially useful in argument paragraphs because it leads the reader to your conclusion drawing them in with your amazing proofs and supports.

You knew you were amazing, right?  Of course.

Placing the topic sentence at the end of your paragraph can be effective in expository paragraphs as well. Leaving the central idea until the end can have a dramatic effect that attracts the reader to keep reading.

Of course, even if your topic sentence or central idea is withheld until the end of the paragraph, you still need to ensure that you have unity and coherence.  All the supports that come before the topic sentence need to be relevant and transition from one to another in order for the whole package to have the desired impact on the reader.  Remember that you have to “lead” them to your central idea and convince them with your message.

Nowhere – and everywhere.

Even more bizarre!

Some paragraphs don’t have the central idea explicitly stated at all! nowhere

This is often the case with narrative writing (relating a sequence of events) and sometimes descriptive writing.  This is especially true in fiction writing where many academic rules are “stretched” or broken.  You can imply the central idea with descriptions, action, dialogue, and so on. This is not to say that you never use topic sentences in fiction, but one topic sentence might serve several paragraphs rather than just one.  The continuity is important and, frankly, trying to generate a new topic sentence in the midst of a “flow” of description does not always make sense.

There you have it.  Topic sentences are not as stable as you thought.  They can move around from place to place.  Sometimes there are a couple of introductory sentences before a topic sentence as well.  Generally, I wouldn’t say the topic sentence comes in the middle of a paragraph, but it can be within it.

Still, for most academic writing, I recommend sticking to having the topic sentence at the beginning of most paragraphs.  It will serve you well.

When writing fiction, you have more freedom – but keep in mind that you still need to help the reader find your central idea using whatever techniques you choose.

Do you want to write more?  Do you want to improve your writing? Contact me, and I will set up a personal program for you. reading-86070_1920

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This week’s video: Topic Sentences

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You Be the Teacher – You Be the Student!

You Be the Teacher – You Be the Student!

Yes.

You can be both a teacher and a learner at any age, and you can do so at the same time.

What do I mean by this?

When you are trying to learn something, put yourself into the teacher’s role.  Pretend that you are teaching yourself.  Alternatively, you can pretend that you are teaching an learn-1996845_640imaginary classmate.  (Suggestion – pick someone you like!)

Use this method during your homework sessions to help you remember information.

This method is not only good for retaining information, but it will also help you learn how to explain concepts, plots for stories, themes, terms, etc.  When the test or exam, or even a pop quiz, arrives, you will have already had practice explaining in your own words – and you will remember!

Teaching others – even imaginary others – is a great gift to you.

You have probably already had this experience.

Have you ever taught a child, parent, sibling, or friend how to ride a bike, play a board game or video game, read, dance, play a sport and so on.  child-558798_640

I bet you have.

Remember that teaching (or learning) is not all about academic subjects.  In fact, you have many learning experiences long before you ever get to school.  Parents, grandparents, siblings, and other family members are your first “teachers.”  They help to get you sitting up, to turn babbling into single words, to stand, and to walk.  Many of the things you learned before you went to school were also learned – at least in part – with you being your own teacher.  Practice, practice, correction, practice, practice, tweaking a bit, practice, practice – mastery!  (Of course, the practice, corrections, and tweaking usually go on much longer.) There is a lot of trial and error learning going on right from the very beginning of your life.

You have probably taught yourself many things since then, particularly anything that you are very interested in doing.

The fact that you might not be completely enthralled with learning algebra, or history, or science, does not negate the fact that you can be your own teacher during practice sessions. Giving yourself permission to take over both roles will enhance the learning experience, make it much more interesting, help you remember, and may even make you a little more understanding and empathetic toward the classroom teacher who is trying to help you gain the knowledge.

So, give it a try during your next homework session.  Be the one to answer the questions as always, but try being the one who asks the questions as well.  Practice being the one who encourages you to learn, who directs you to the right pages, who points out the important bits, even the one who is stern when you go astray.

Wow!

I know you will be increasing your learning by a substantial amount!

If you need more encouragement or direction, I am always willing to help.julia-raasch-143428

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This weeks Video: You Be the Teacher – You Be the Student

Sentence Fragment Monsters Coming to Destroy Your Writing!

Don’t let sentence fragments detract from your amazing message!

Avoid                                             stop sign

When writing, try to avoid using sentence fragments.

Now, they are fine for your brainstorming but you don’t want them in your final draft.

Avoiding sentence fragments in your rough draft is also a good idea because you will become accustomed to writing in full sentences and have fewer edits to make on your final copy.

emily-morter-188019

What are they?

What exactly is a sentence fragment?

Basically, a sentence fragment is part of a sentence, but only part, masquerading as a real sentence!

You are missing some essential element.  The following three examples all look like sentences, but they aren’t.  They are all sentence fragments.

  1. You might have a subject but not predicate:

My aged mother from the senior citizen’s green acres retirement centre.

  1. You might have a predicate but no subject:

Invented a new solution to the problem of inner city traffic and pedestrian interaction.

  1. You might have a subordinating word that makes the clause dependent:

After the colourful turtles crossed the road in the morning.

To have a complete sentence, you need at least one independent clause.

When the massive blue bus careened around the rocky curve at the top of Bluebird Hill.

This certainly seems to be a sentence.  It has a capital and a period for end punctuation. It has a series of words that make sense talking about one main idea; however, the thought is not complete.  What happened when the bus careened around the curve?  We don’t know.  The writer forgot to include this information in the main sentence.

You will notice that simply removing the word “When” creates a full sentence.  However, with the subordinating word “When,” the group of words is dependent, and you will need to add something to complete the thought.

When the massive blue bus careened around the rocky curve at the top of Bluebird Hill, we all thought we were doomed.

Help is on the way!

One easy (although not entirely accurate) way to tell whether a sentence is complete or a fragment is to imagine someone saying it to you.  Does it make sense?

After the party at Exhibition Park.

Drawing a line through the sand.

Screamed at the top of his lungs.

When you say these aloud to yourself – you have unanswered questions such as “What happened after the party?” and “Who screamed?”

At times this can be confusing.  For example: I can’t read it.

You might say this is a fragment because we don’t know what “it” is; however, we do have a subject “I” and a predicate “can’t read it,” and we don’t have any subordinating words.  So, although we don’t know everything at this point, the sentence itself is complete. Presumably this would be part of a series of sentences rather than a stand-alone sentence.

Technically

  1. Check to see that you have at least one subject and one predicate.
  2. Check that you have at least one independent clause.

Exceptions

Most of these points about sentence fragments apply to formal, academic writing.  There are times when a sentence fragment is helpful – particularly in fiction writing. Writing fiction or poetry breaks many of the formal rules in order to create a more realistic scene or dialogue.  We generally don’t speak or have a conversation with someone using full sentences and formal grammar at all times. Also, when giving an order or command, the subject is “implied” rather than stated.  (My two points under “Technically” are examples.)

Close the window.    (The subject is implied.  Often assumed to be “you.”)

funny-2029437_640

One more point

Don’t worry.  Keep writing.  The important thing is to keep practising and writing what you love to write about.

Getting feedback and direction can be essential if you need to, or want to, improve your technique, style, and final product.

Here is one place to start:

Paragraph Writing Lessons

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Video: Sentence Fragments

Ron

 

Writing in English

Keep it simple

When you write, particularly when you are writing a finished product such as an essay, book report, or speech, etc., use the structures you know.

Remember the old adage, “Write about what you know.”  Well, this works with technical aspects as well.

There is no need to artificially complicate your sentences just to seem more academic or “more intelligent.”

To be honest, when writers do this, they tend to reduce the quality of their writing rather than enhance it.

I have seen students who spend a great deal of time trying to “perfect” very weak arguments or assertions with complicated language and massive (and unreadable) sentences.  This method does not work!  But don’t worry, as you learn a wider variety of sentence structures and paragraph structures, you will be able to effectively incorporate them into your finished products.

In the meantime, write well with the tools you have.

darts-155726_640

Focus on the goal

Keep your mind on your goal.

What do you want the reader to gain from your article?

If it is an essay, you are arguing for a certain point of view or supporting your opinion.

If you are writing a speech, you might be informing the reader or trying to persuade him/her to take a certain action.

(Often written work can have more than one purpose, but there is generally a dominant one.)

If you need to write an essay or report for a grade – again, keeping your mind on the goal is important.  Don’t worry about the grade.  If your writing is well done and you have conveyed the message you intended, then the grade will follow.

Remember that the goal is the whole point of your writing!  Don’t let it slip through the cracks.  Your message is far more important than fancy language and complexity.

evan-dennis-75563

But how do you improve?

You might be asking this question, “How do I improve if I don’t try to write in a more complicated manner?”

There are multiple answers, but let’s start with the improvement bit.

With each new article, you can “stretch” yourself.  While working on rough copies or drafts, you can experiment with longer sentences or new structures.  Always read your work aloud to “hear” if it sounds right. You can also ask yourself this question: “If someone walked up to me and said this, would I know what he/she was talking about?”  (If the answer is “no,” then you still have some work to do.)

Of course, reading to someone or having someone else read your efforts can be helpful. If the person has no idea what your sentence means, then it is generally the wrong way to write that sentence.

(I have read many students’ articles for courses or information that I have never studied myself.  Of course, I might not understand very technical details of an obscure course; however, the sentences and language should still be understandable.  Basically, anyone should be able to read your paper and gain some insight from it.)

Another great idea is to record yourself and then listen to your article with your eyes closed.  Does everything make sense to you?  Do the sentences move smoothly from one idea to the next?  Is there a satisfying conclusion that leaves you feeling that your main point has been adequately explored?

Your journal writing is another awesome place to experiment.  It isn’t so important if your sentences fall apart or if they lack the finesse of a finished product if the writing is just for yourself.

Reading back over old journal entries you can see how much you’ve improved but also how much you might still need to improve.  I know people who have read their old writing and have no idea what a particular sentence means!

Of course, you can take courses that specifically address writing skills.

Ron033    Ron – well, a slightly younger version!  🙂

You could hire a tutor to give you some specific direction and help along the way. A good tutor will assess your current abilities and then provide you with a program that will bring you the results you desire.

Here is a great place to start:  Paragraph Writing Lessons

Website: www.tutoringcentral.com

Video: Writing – Keep it simple!

 

Ronald J. Johnson

Director – L.T.L. Tutoring Central

Free Webinar

Don’t miss out on the free webinar this week: Essay Writing Tips!

Writing is such a challenging task for most people.

Okay, writing might not be a huge challenge, but writing “well” is.

I will be discussing beginning strategies, structures (thesis, sentences, paragraphs, etc.), matters of form (continuity, interest, technical considerations), proofreading, and more.

All the tools you need to write almost anything are the same tools needed for essay writing.

Oh, and did I mention there are prizes ?   There are!

Hope to see you there!

Also – let your friends, students, colleagues, enemies (kidding) know about this Webinar.

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