In this textbook chapter on descriptive writing, you learned about the importance of word choice. This writing skill should be kept in mind as you write under time constraints. Because timed writing often does not allow the comfort of access to a thesaurus or ample time for revision, this skill needs to be automatic in order to have a significant benefit.
Automaticity comes from practice. Whenever you practice incorporating new vocabulary into your drafted writing, you are steadily gaining new words that you will have access to when writing under a time limit. In fact, this skill does not only strengthen through active use of new words in drafted essays. When you read and listen with the intention of recognizing and learning new words and phrases, you can also expand your vocabulary. Sometimes these words and phrases can enter your vocabulary without intentional practice due to repeated exposure to them in context. In other words, automaticity of word choice is a skill you build just by practicing English as much as possible.
Variety not only improves writing by including more descriptive and specific words and phrases. Even sentence structure choices can have an impact on the clarity of your ideas and the continued interest of a reader. There isn't a "better" or "best" grammatical structure for a sentence. Focus on learning how to use each type to best present your ideas. A more advanced writer does not over-rely on one type.
Like word choice, sentence variation will become natural for you over time as you write more. It will also be strengthened as you hear and read how others structure their ideas.
A simple sentence has just one independent clause (subject + verb). It is one complete idea.
- Mother Teresa was a great woman.
Compound sentences have two independent clauses. This means that there are two separate and complete ideas that are combined using a connector word (also known as a compound conjunction or FANBOYS; ex. for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).
- Mother Teresa was a great woman, and she had a significant impact on the world.
The third would be a complex sentence which has one independent clause and one (or more) dependent clause. The dependent clause is incomplete without the inclusion of an independent clause. You may have learned these in grammar class with a different names (such as time clause, conditionals, or subordinating conjunctions).
- Although she initially had no money to support her work, Mother Teresa dedicated her life to serving the poor.
Finally, you can have a compound-complex sentence these sentences have both a compound conjunction and a subordinating conjunction.
- Mother Teresa dedicated her life to serving the poor even though she initially had no money to support her work, and this example is a reminder to help others regardless of our personal situation.
Revising for Variation
Although these skills will find their way into your writing naturally, your revision time is perfect for checking for variety. During a timed writing situation, you should always reserve some time to check your work before submitting. In this practice, you will focus on using that revision to look for words that are: repetitive, imprecise, basic, or weak. Additionally, you will revise by looking at grammatical structure of sentence to create a more interesting rhythm of ideas and restructure for clarity.
Exercise 1: Timed Writing (Revision Focus)
For this timed writing practice, you will have 20 minutes to write on the topic. At the 20-minute timer, you will begin your revision time. You will have 5 minutes to revise for word choice and 5 minutes to revise for sentence variation.
- What is one invention or technology that you believe has had the most significant impact on the modern world? Describe the invention/technology and explain the impact of it.
- You are applying for a job and the application includes a short answer question. The job requires you to work directly with customers/clients in a positive way to resolve issues. The short answer question asks you to describe a time in the past when you resolved a conflict with someone else in a calm and respectful way.
- The ELC administration has sent you a survey. The purpose of the survey is to help new students adjust to life in a new country. One question on the survey is a short answer (1-2 paragraphs) asking you to describe how to establish a social support network in the United States. Using details your own personal experience and that of your friends, describe what a new student can do to make friends and feel supported while studying abroad at the ELC.