What does it mean to write "by the sentence"

May 24 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

Writing by the sentence is kinda like buying by the piece. You may need a whole lot of something, but you pick each individual one that you want.

Writing by the sentence means crafting each sentence. It means making sure it comes from the one before and leads to the one after. It means, for a grant proposal that each sentence works, does what it needs to, and not much more. It means there are No. Wasted. Words. If anything irritates me its having 2-3 sentences in a row that say the same thing.

This doesn't mean that the same information shouldn't show up in multiple places. When I had the consultant who got me funded on a proposal (here's the post based on his letter of support for me), I mentioned his collaboration in several places (the significance, at least two places in Research Design, and certainly in Vert Animals, as that was his expertise).

Writing by the sentence is one way to achieve making every sentence work hard for you. In fact, making every word work for you. The subject and the predicate need to convey information and not be place holders.

One of the problems of writing by the sentence is that you get bogged down. You get lost. You lose track of the forest, let alone the ecosystem. That's why Darwin discovered outlines. Do the outline first, and then fill in the sentences.

There is much more to say on this, especially examples. But! too many things happening this morning.

5 responses so far

  • Good message, Mistress! But before polishing the sentences, I recommend taking the drafting one step further, drawing on the suggestion of author and writing guru Anne Lamott: Send the editor out of the room and write the shitty first draft. Then call her back in to work her magic on the written text.

    And, looping back to your recommendation about outlining, absolutely! But, some of us nonlinear thinkers find the concept of an outline intimidating. So, I remind people that the outline need not be done in a linear fashion. Instead, one can jot down all the key words first, and then organize and prioritize them later. Voila, a linear outline!

  • Ola says:

    If anything irritates me its having 2-3 sentences in a row that say the same thing Yes this!

    Another pet peeve of mine is when people write a number of sentences that carry essentially the same message in a slightly different way, and string them together to waste an entire paragraph.

  • pyrope says:

    I agree that multiple redundant sentences are unnecessary. But, I do sometimes repeat points with a second 'in other words...' type of sentence. I do this mainly in proposals when I'm trying to emphasize a key point that I want the reader to remember, like a gap in the literature that I'm aiming to fill.
    In proposals, you definitely don't want extraneous sentences that detract from your key points and objectives. But, I think one also has to pay extra attention to making things easier for the reviewer (much more so than papers). And, making things easier for the reviewer might require repeating key points for emphasis.

  • Grumpy says:

    I mostly agree with you for when it comes to journal articles.

    But I find it to be a waste of time to worry over writing style this much for proposals.

    I'm only bothering to say this because as a relatively new faculty I find the advice I've gotten on this (revise, edit, ask others to read it, continue to edit your proposals for months) to be terrible. Small sample, but most of my funded proposals were written quickly in less than 1 week with plenty of style flaws, while some of the ones I spent longest on got crappy reviews.

    • potnia theron says:

      How much time you spend is a different function/criterion than how you do it. I tend to agree about time spent, and wrote a post a long time ago about energy in vs. product out. I'll look for the link to it, when I am back home.

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