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An expert academic or technical writer needs only a few basic sentence patterns to produce easy-to-understand writing. Each of the sentence patterns below will result in clear academic or technical writing. However, do not use any one pattern more than twice in a row to prevent the writing from sounding repetitive and boring. Also, use the more complex sentence patterns less frequently. They are more challenging for the reader and may make the writing overall more complex than necessary.
All effective sentence patterns start with the Subject-Verb-Object (S-V-O) sentence structure. Optional components are additional S-V-O structures and descriptive words, phrases, and clauses (D), which can be placed in various locations.
In the samples below, the subjects are underlined, and the main verbs are in italics.
1. Simple sentence (S-V-O): A simple sentence has one subject-verb pair. It starts with the subject (or an adjective and the subject). The subject is immediately followed by the verb (or an adverb and the verb). A simple sentence may contain an object.
Example 1: The computer desktop provides access to your files.
2. Simple sentence with a simple introductory description (D + S-V-O): The main sentence is a simple sentence. It is preceded by a simple descriptive phrase with only one level of description (2a) or a simple descriptive clause with only one subject and verb (2b). If you need to describe some aspect of the introductory description, use two sentences. Otherwise, the description will be overly complex and increase the potential for confusion.
Example 2a: As designed, the computer desktop provides access to your files.
Example 2b: When your computer is working properly, the computer desktop provides access to your files.
3. Compound simple sentence (S-V-O + S-V-O): Two simple sentences are joined by a conjunction.
Example 3: The computer desktop provides access to your files, and the external hard drive stores back-up files.
4. Compound simple sentence with a simple introductory description (D + S-V-O + S-V-O): This pattern combines the previous two patterns.
Example 4: According to the instructions, the computer desktop provides access to your files, and the external hard drive stores back-up files.
5. Simple sentences with compound predicates (S-V-O + V-O): The subject has two main verbs.
Example 5: The computer desktop provides access to your files and contains shortcuts to common programs and folders.
6. Simple sentences with compound objects (S-V-O + O): The verb has two objects. Not every sentence has an object, but a sentence that can have one object can also have two.
Example 6: The computer desktop provides access to your files and critical information about your computer.
7. Simple sentence with descriptive phrase for the subject or verb (S+D -V-O; S- V+D -O): A descriptive phrase follows the subject (7a) and either follows or precedes the verb (7b). If you use a descriptive phrase after the subject, keep it as short as possible because it will separate the subject and the main verb. A descriptive phrase does not have a subject and verb.
Example 7a: The computer desktop, your starting point, provides access to your files.
Example 7b: The computer desktop provides, as simply as possible, access to your files.
8. Sentence with ending descriptive phrase or clause (Sentence + D): Any of the previous sentence patterns can be followed by a descriptive phrase or clause. For example, the descriptive clause in example 8a follows a simple sentence, the descriptive phrase in example 8b follows a compound sentence, and the descriptive phrase in example 8c follows a simple sentence with a simple introductory description.
Example 8a: The computer desktop provides access to your files, which is handy when you need to locate a file quickly.
Example 8b: The computer desktop provides access to your files, and the external hard drive stores back-up files, thus providing two ways to access all files.
Example 8c: As designed, the computer desktop provides access to your files, with back-up copies on the external drive.
Other sentence patterns: These eight sentence types will serve you well in nearly every instance. You can modify them to create other patterns. For example, you can add descriptive words in multiple locations. With each sentence you write, however, consider the level of complexity and consider whether a simpler pattern will work. Some cautions: (1) keep the S-V-O pattern intact, (2) only use one level of description, and (3) use few descriptive clauses and phrases, if any.
By using these sentence patterns, you will communicate clearly with your readers and will become more competent with academic or technical writing.
David Bowman is the Owner and Chief Editor of Precise Edit, a comprehensive editing, proofreading, and document analysis service for authors, students, and businesses. Precise Edit also offers a variety of other services, such as translation, transcription, and website development.