SAT Test Prep

CHAPTER 12
WRITING A GREAT ESSAY

Lesson 11: Write Masterfully

Vary Your Sentence Length Wisely

Consider the following paragraph:

Many people buy into the cliché “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” On its surface, this statement seems obviously true. However, some deep thought and analysis about this statement, its assumptions and implications, shows clearly that it is mistaken.

Not bad, but consider the following revision:

Many people buy into the cliché “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” On its surface, this statement seems obviously true. It’s not.

Why is the last sentence of the revision more effective than the last sentence of the first paragraph? Because it’s short. When it follows a series of lengthy, informative sentences, a short sentence hits the reader like a slap in the face and drives home an important point.


Good writers always think about the length of their sentences. Long sentences may be necessary for explaining complex ideas, but very short sentences are often best for emphasizing important points.


Eliminate Sentences to Nowhere


Eliminate sentences that state the obvious, are hopelessly vague, or don’t move your thesis forward. Sometimes a sentence that seemed profound when you first wrote it may turn out to be nonsensical or unintelligible. Every sentence should convey a fresh and interesting idea that moves your argument forward. Any sentence that fails to do that should be eliminated.


If you must eliminate a sentence from your essay, cross it out neatly. Don’t worry about erasing it completely, and don’t be concerned about the essay’s looking “perfect.” The readers understand that you would have been more neat if you had had the time, and won’t penalize you for eliminating an unnecessary sentence.

Example:

Life is characterized by the ups and downs one experiences while living from day to day.

The writer probably thought that this sentence was profound when she wrote it. But it really doesn’t say anything at all. Saying that life has ups and downs is just stating the obvious. No rational person would disagree with that. The writer should eliminate this sentence.

Example:

Every country seeks a constant prosperity in its growth.

This sentence is so vague and uninteresting that it’s hardly worth saving. How can a country seek anything? Maybe the people can, but not the country. Saying that people seek prosperity is a pretty uninteresting observation. Do they really seek constant prosperity? What does that even mean? And what the heck is prosperity in their growth? Clearly, this is a sentence to nowhere.

Choose Your Words Carefully


Good writers have good vocabularies. They know that one well-chosen “bargain” word is often worth six modifiers.



Don’t use overblown vocabulary unnecessarily. Fancy words are often distracting.


Practice 11: Write Masterfully

Sentence Variation Practice

Cross out the sentence in each paragraph that is too long. Then rewrite the sentence to increase its impact.

1. Many neoconservatives love to claim that lowering taxes actually raises government revenue. Any rational examination of this claim shows clearly that it is wrong, or at least not as simple as they are claiming. In fact, the government’s tax revenue depends on many things other than the tax rate.

2. My mother sat me down and explained to me how important it is to spend money wisely. After listening to her carefully, I understood the point she was trying to make. I began keeping better track of my accounts and became a wiser consumer.

Bargain Word Practice

Find a single word or shorter phrase to capture the idea in bold.

3. David looked very closely at his test results.

4. The girls in the car talked on and on about meaningless things for hours.

5. The coach gave us a long, harsh, and critical speech about our lack of effort in the first half.

Toning Down Practice

Tone down the fancy vocabulary in the sentences below.

6. When a practitioner of medicine suggests an appropriate remedy for a malady, it is best that the person to whom it was offered utilizes it strictly according to the instructions.

7. Plebeians execrate prevaricators, while aristocrats lionize them.

Check your answers with the answer key at the end of the chapter.