How to Use Sentence Variety to Spice Up Your Writing
When we talk to one another, we use a variety of different types of sentences in order to communicate our ideas and engage the person we’re talking to. We ask questions, make interruptions, give one word answers and even go on forever without reaching a conclusion.
Adding variety to our speech comes naturally–but writing copy using different types of sentences takes practice. It’s a crucial component to crafting effective copy; without sentence variety, your business writing would be rigid, uniform and tiresome to read. Here are a few tips for varying sentences and adding interest to your copy.
Varying Sentence Length
One strategy for variation is using different sentence lengths to create a natural-sounding rhythm. When you use multiple sentences of the same length all in a row, it creates a boring, repetitive rhythm.
“Our customers love us. We have the best prices. Come talk to our friendly staff.”
Writing like this has no natural flow; it almost seems more like three separate sentences which have nothing to do with one another. There’s no connection from one thought to another. When you read a paragraph like this, it’s also hard to figure out what the main point is supposed to be because all points are given equal emphasis.
Instead, you can combine different ideas to make longer ones or trim longer ideas into shorter sentences to create variety.
“Our customers love us because we have the best prices and a friendly staff.”
Your copy should be a healthy mix of varied sentence lengths–from long run-on sentences to one-word statements. There should be variation every few sentences–throw in a short sentence after a lengthy explanation or break up a paragraph of all short sentences by expanding one of your ideas.
“Our customers love us. That’s because we have the best prices and a friendly staff.”
When to Use Long or Short Sentences
As a general rule of thumb, long sentences are better for delivering extensive, detailed information, while short sentences are best as attention-grabbers for making a point stick in the reader’s head.
Think of copywriting as storytelling-you want to draw readers in with details, build suspense, give them the information to draw their own conclusions. That’s when you use your longer sentences.
But you also want to surprise your readers and direct them towards an overall message or action, which is what your shorter sentences accomplish.
Don’t be afraid of sentence fragments. What might be a nightmare to English teachers everywhere is actually a boon to copywriters because fragments sound more conversational, and therefore, more authentic.
Since we’re trained to always write in complete sentences, sentence fragments tend to stick out more. Use this to your advantage by strategically using fragments to emphasize certain aspects of your copy.
“Your family’s health. The doctors and nurses at Ruth Medical Group know it’s the most important thing on your mind.”
Here, the fragment gives the reader time to focus on a certain point (his or her family’s health) before moving on to the next point. Although this could have easily been written as one full sentence, doing so wouldn’t make as strong of an impact and wouldn’t put emphasis on the points that need it most.
Understanding Sentence Types and Structures
Variety goes beyond thinking in only terms of length; you also need a mix of different sentence structures in your copy. When we communicate with one another, we don’t just stand around making declarations–we ask questions, burst out with exclamations and even tell each other what to do. Varying sentence structure in your writing is a great way to make it sound more conversational and natural.
By definition, declarative sentences make a statement. Use declarative sentences to offer explanations and details. You’ll find that most of your sentences are declarative, and that’s okay–it’s the easiest way to express an idea and to have it be fully understood. Just make sure to change it up every now and then.
“Bruce Automotive sells used automobiles at affordable prices.”
Interrogative sentences ask a question; you can use them to engage the reader directly. Be aware that there’s a risk to asking questions when you can’t be sure your audience will have the answer you’re looking for. On the other hand, questions can also weed out those audience members who weren’t going to be interested in your offer in the first place.
“Are you looking for an affordable deal on a used car?”
Exclamatory sentences are sudden bursts of excitement, followed by an exclamation point. Use them to grab your audience’s attention and to get them excited about your brand, product or offer. Exclamatory sentences work best when used sparingly, as an excess of excitement can seem too pushy.
“Bruce Automotive is having the biggest sale of the year!”
Imperative sentences tell the reader to do something. These are crucial in copywriting because they make up the bulk of your call-to-action. As such, you don’t want to load up your copy with too many different commands for your reader to follow, or else your call-to-action will become muddled.
“Test drive an affordable used car today at Bruce Automotive.”
When we talk out loud, we often interrupt ourselves to bring in new points or to make a comment before continuing our original point. Mimicking these natural interruptions in your copy makes it more interesting and attention-grabbing.
Depending on how much you get off topic, you’ll either use commas, dashes or parentheses to break up the different ideas. Here are a few examples demonstrating these different techniques.
Commas add natural pauses to your writing without necessarily making any part of the sentence stand out. They’re a common staple of grammar, so you’ll likely use them the most often, especially when you want to avoid drawing unwanted attention towards certain parts of your sentence.
“We get it, sometimes you need a vacation from the kids, which is why Jewell Travel has the best deals for romantic getaways.”
Dashes are used to separate a particular fragment from the rest of your sentence while also adding extra emphasis to it. It’s a good way to make certain words stand out from the rest.
“Sometimes you need to just get away from it all — kids included — which is why Jewell Travel can help you plan that romantic dream cruise you’ve been dreaming of.”
Use parentheses for asides, clarifications, commentaries, and other things that might feel a bit out of place as part of the sentence proper.
“If you’ve been secretly planning a romantic dream vacation (don’t worry, we won’t tell the kids), then Jewell Travel can help you make it an affordable reality.”
Varying Sentence Beginnings
Using the same word to open every sentence creates dull copy. There’s little cohesion to make the sentences into a proper paragraph–it just sounds like a boring list.
“We do inspections at no additional cost. We have the finest automotive parts in stock. We have the best prices in town.”
Find new ways to say the same thing and play with the openings of your sentences. This means that sometimes you may have to break a few rules. Sometimes a sentence in the passive voice can be an effective way to add variety. Likewise, starting sentences with “and” or “but” is completely acceptable in copywriting.
“Get your car inspected at no additional cost. We use only the most high-quality parts. And don’t forget: we’ll give you the best deal, guaranteed.”
The exception to the rule is when you purposefully use repetition to make a particular message or image stick in the minds of your audience. For example:
“You’re tired. You’re stressed. You’re in need of pampering. Essence Spa is here to help you feel like you again.”
Driving Home Your Message Through Repetition
Speaking of repetition, writing effective copy often requires you to repeat your message and call-to-action several times in order to make it sink in. However, if you say the same exact things over and over again, the audience will lose interest.
Use sentence variety to make your repeated points more interesting. This starts with buttoning down your message and knowing exactly what you want to say and how you want your audience to react.
Think of it this way: there’s a great number of ways you can say hello to someone. That’s because the message of saying hello is simple to understand, both for you and the person you’re greeting. You’ve said hello so many times in your life that you’ve naturally developed a wide variety of ways to say it. Some are short and to the point (“Hi.”) some are inquisitive (“How are you doing?”) and some are downright aggressive (“Hey, you!”)
Taking the same concept, there’s a number of different ways you can present your message so that the audience is never tired of hearing it.
“Call us for a free consultation.”
“Our friendly staff is waiting to talk to you today.”
“Did you know our phone lines are open 24-hours a day to better convenience you?”
“Debt relief is just a phone call away.”
It’s not just a single message that you want to repeat–there are probably a number of great things about your brand that you want to stand out. You can use repetition modifiers to drive home these points; they’re essentially a way of repeating one or more ideas within a single sentence.
Resumptive Modifiers – Resumptive modifiers repeat a word or phrase that was thought to be finished in order to branch out into a new direction.
“Buying your new car at Cobb Automotive is fast and easy–fast because we’ll work with you to get the financing you need, and easy because we have a wide selection and a friendly sales staff.”
Summative Modifiers – Summative modifiers repeat the idea instead of the actual words themselves, providing a summary of the previous points in the sentence.
“Cobb Automotive is friendly, trustworthy and affordable–three admirable qualities you want in an auto dealership. “
Repetition of Phrases
Repeating entire phrases word for word can either make your copy boring or dynamic, depending on how you pull it off. Think of repeating phrases as the chorus of a song. The chorus is arguable the most memorable section of any song. Everybody can sing along to the chorus.
But a chorus only works when its backed up by strong verses. The same goes for repeated phrases–when used to break up the rest of your copy, they can be an effective way to drive home a point.
“Is your home infested with ants or termites? We’ll take care of that. Got an excess of spiders in your basement or crawlspace? We’ll take care of that. Are vermin like mice and rats making your home an unpleasant place to live? We’ll take care of that.”
The best way to work on your sentence variety is to build up your chops with writing exercises and examples. Start with a simple sentence at first, such as “The boy threw the ball,” and find out how many different types of ways you can rewrite the sentence while keeping the message intact.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, try rewriting sentences that have to do with your brand, such as your mission statement, slogan or call to action. If you really want to challenge yourself, take an old piece of copy and rewrite every sentence to create something new.
Just be sure to read what you write out loud to make sure it sounds natural and effective. Doing so will also help you find which areas of your copy need more sentence variety because these areas will sound boring or repetitive.
Posted in Copywriting