If you want to be a better writer, you should learn to avoid writing sticky sentences. Not sure what makes a sentence sticky? No worries, I’m about to tell you. This post breaks down six sticky sentences and shows you how to revise them. Next time you get stuck in your own sticky words, you can use these examples to set your words free.
What Is a Sticky Sentence?
A sticky sentence contains any number of words that are unnecessary to the intended meaning of your writing. These words act as sticking points for readers, slowing them down and causing confusion. You can imagine these sentences as a spider web trapping readers like little flies in confusing stickiness.
As a reader, you can usually recognize a sticky sentence when you have to go back and reread an unclear passage to understand it.
As a writer, it’s hard to read your own work objectively. You may not recognize when a sentence that you wrote is sticky. The best way to find sticky sentences in your work is to read it aloud (or, of course, ask someone to edit your work). If you encounter a sentence that takes your breath away (not because it’s awesome, but because it’s too long), or a sentence that is awkward or confusing, it’s probably sticky.
Sticky sentences often arise from the overuse of the most common words in the English language, words such as so, if, than, but, and about. Sentences can also get sticky when you overuse adverbs.
As a general rule, sentences should use verbs, adjectives, and nouns to convey your intended meaning. Adverbs and connector words, such as about, should all be used with caution and only when essential.
The best way for me to explain the problem of sticky sentences is to show you examples from work I’ve edited at Kibin. I will give you some original sentences, point out the sticky words, show you a revision, and explain my thought process on the revision.
Sticky Sentences Example #1
Original word count: 18 words
Sticky words: what I went through, even more
Edited word count: 14 words
Explanation: In this sentence, I revised the phrase what I went through with the simpler, and less sticky my experiences. I exchanged the vague and sticky for being with the more direct verb to work. In addition, the phrase even more is redundant with increased, and I cut it without losing meaning. The revised sentence is clear and succinct.
Sticky Sentences Example #2
Original word count: 17 words
Sticky words: now, and, to go, for my second step
Edited word count: 10 words
Explanation: The word now is implied and can be deleted. I removed the infinitive verb to go because it is repetitive with go to. The phrase for my second step is awkward and can be removed while retaining the meaning. In the end, we have a trim sentence that conveys the essential meaning without all the stickiness.
Sticky Sentences Example #3
Original word count: 28
Sticky words: that, another thing, about
Edited word count: 25
Explanation: I split this into two sentences to help with clarity and to remove the sticky word that. I swapped another thing with the clearer choice, something, and exchanged thought about with the simpler word choice, considered. The result is a pair of sentences that are easier for the reader to follow.
Sticky Sentences Example #4
Original word count: 26
Sticky words: in, a lot, have led, because, a, different kinds, things
Edited word count: 20
Explanation: I exchanged the awkward phrase helped me a lot in education with the streamlined helped me with my education and dumped the unnecessary a lot. I split the sentence into two sentences and removed the sticky word because. I removed the sticky phrase a kid and exchanged it with young. I swapped the unclear phrase led me to with the more vivid phrase encouraged me to. I removed the redundant words different kinds and stuck with many, which says it all. The new sentence leaves no room for confusion.
Sticky Sentences Example #5
Original word count: 26
Sticky words: very, equally, slightly
Edited word count: 24
Explanation: This sentence is a great example of how overusing adverbs can cause stickiness. I removed very because it adds nothing to the meaning. I exchanged equally for the less cumbersome too, which improves the flow. And I removed the adverb slightly because it decreases the strength of the sentence. If you are going to write something, commit to it, don’t just slightly say something. Note that I kept the adverb secretly because it adds important meaning. The resulting sentence packs a lot more punch than the original.
Sticky Sentences Example #6
Original word count: 22
Sticky words: in regards to, main, kinds, about
Edited word count: 16
Explanation: I changed the clunky phrase in regards to into the simpler word regarding. The phrase main focus is redundant since, by definition, one can only focus on a single thing at a time, and so writing focus suffices. Similarly, different kinds is redundant, and stating different is enough. Finally, researched about is unnecessary. Writing researched adequately conveys the intended meaning with the added bonus of not ending a sentence with a preposition, which is a no-no.
Final Thoughts about Sticky Sentences
The goal of writing is to clearly communicate your message to readers. Cluttering your writing with unnecessary words will only hide your meaning and create additional work for the reader.
I can’t tell you to never write the words slightly or a lot because in and of themselves, these words aren’t sticky. It’s when they’re used unnecessarily in a sentence that your sticky web is created. That’s why learning how to avoid sticky writing takes a lot of practice.
Using only words that serve a purpose will make you a better writer. For more information on sticky sentences, check out this helpful blog post on sticky sentences and try out this sticky sentence finder.