Improve your writing with three easy revisions

Many students come to the Writing and Communication Centre to see if their writing flows well. Most of the time these students don’t know why, but they feel as though their writing is hard to follow. Here are the top three reasons your work may seem confusing to the reader. 

1.    Fragments 

Fragments are like incomplete thoughts that end abruptly. They usually lack a subject/noun or a verb. Fragments are dependent clauses that are left on their own and do not form a complete thought. Just because it starts with a capital letter and ends with a period does not mean it is a sentence!

Problem 

Here is a fragment caused by a missing subject/noun:

Start after exams.

Solution 

By adding a subject, it can become a complete sentence:

My vacation starts after exams. 

(See the Sentence Fragments worksheet for more examples)


2.    Run-on sentences

Run-on sentences are the opposite of fragments because they are made up of many independent clauses that are not joined by a conjunction or semicolon. Even with conjunctions such has “and”, too many independent clauses in one sentences hurries the reader along. By the time your reader reaches the end of the sentence they may have already forgotten the information at the start of it. 

Problem

This sentence lacks a conjunction between the two clauses:

When I went to the market I noticed that they were selling honey, I remembered that I had to buy honey in order to bake the cake for my party tonight. 

Solution

Try to stick to one main idea per sentence and divide independent clauses using transition words: 

When I went to the market, I noticed that they were selling sugar. As a result, I remembered that I had to buy sugar in order to bake the cake for my party tonight. 

(See the Run-ons and Comma Splices worksheet for more transition words/conjunctions) 


3.    Semi-colons 

Using a semi-colon is a convenient way of splitting up your sentences. The important part is using it properly by insuring that both clauses are independent. This means that on each side of the semicolon you have a complete sentence even though both of them are related to the same idea. 

Problem

I walked outside and saw that it was raining; had to get my umbrella.  

Notice how one of the clauses fails to be independent:

I walked outside and saw that it was raining.

Had to get my umbrella.  


This creates an unwanted fragment in your writing.


Solution

I walked outside and saw that it was raining; I immediately ran back to my house and got my umbrella.  


Notice how both these sentences are complete on their own: 

I walked outside and saw that it was raining. 

I immediately ran back to my house and got my umbrella.  


The semi-colon was used properly in this case. 

(See the Making Sense of Semicolons worksheet for more information) 


 

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