May 22

Are you a conjunction junky?

When we're writing about complicated ideas that are interrelated, our sentences sometimes get a little long and unwieldy. We want to discuss how Concept A relates to Concept B, and the relationship requires just a bit more explanation, but we don't want to interrupt the thought that we're stringing together, so we tag on one independent clause after another, connecting sentences with more and more conjunctions and phrases, and before you know it, you have a sentence that takes up five lines in your paper.

Kind of like the sentence above.

While the long, winding sentence may make perfect sense to you, lengthy sentences tend to tire and bore readers. The point you are trying to make gets lost in all the clauses and phrases strung together. Shorter, tighter sentences are more compelling, and they force you to get to the point quickly.

One way to tell whether you need to break up some sentences in your writing is to look for the coordinating conjunctions. When you have two independent phrases in one sentence, you combine them with one of these coordinating conjunctions: “and,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so.”

Search your document for these words. If you're using Word on a PC, hold the control button and type “F.” If you're using Word on a Mac, hold the command button and type “F.” A search box will pop up or appear in the upper right-hand corner or lower left-hand corner, depending on which type and what year of software you're using. Type in “and,” and the program will highlight all instances of “and.” You can quickly click through the sentences with and, searching for any particularly long, winding sentences to break down. Do the same for “but,” “yet,” and “so,” each one at a time.

I'm not opposed to coordinating conjunctions or long sentences, in general. If you do tend to write long sentences, though, you probably have quite a few in your paper. A long, joined sentence here and there is fine, but one long sentence after another, after another taxes the reader unnecessarily. Let's be honest, you could probably make your point more simply.

And you know, as a child of the 80s, that I can't possibly talk about conjunctions without the Conjunction Function, What's Your Function? song in my head. Go ahead, you know you want to listen to it…

What do you think? Are you an avid fan of coordinating conjunctions and long sentences? Or do you find yourself on the other end of the spectrum, writing lots of short sentences in a row?


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