Basic Sentence Patterns for Variety in Scholarly Prose
When writing academic and scientific prose, the main goals tend to be the thorough and accurate communication of research-based information and the effective construction of a persuasive scholarly argument. The highest standard of formal English is required if readers are to understand exactly what an author intends, and the most prestigious publishers and journals tend to expect that standard. In addition, publishers now emphasise the need for authors to write engaging prose and tell a story about their research in order to engage readers in an increasingly competitive market for academic and scientific writing. Varying the structure of sentences is an excellent way in which to present sophisticated material and simultaneously hold the interest of readers, so if you feel that you might be in something of a rut when it comes to sentence structure, or if you have been advised to move beyond simple sentences in your formal English writing, you may want to give a few of these constructions a try.
• A compound sentence consisting of two independent clauses (simple sentences) joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction. For example, ‘I designed the methodology, and my colleague drafted the paper,’ ‘I designed the methodology, but my colleague drafted the paper,’ and ‘I designed my methodology with additional controls, so the results were more conclusive.’
• A compound sentence consisting of two independent clauses joined by a semicolon, as in ‘I designed the methodology; my colleague drafted the paper’ and ‘I designed my methodology with additional controls; the superior results were expected.’
• A compound sentence consisting of two independent clauses joined by (1) a semicolon, (2) an adverb or an adverbial or transitional phrase and, in most cases, (3) a comma. ‘I designed my methodology with additional controls; however, even I had not expected such strikingly different results’ is a sound example, as is ‘I designed the methodology and conducted the research while my colleague was on leave; as a result, she will be drafting the paper and seeking a publisher while I am on leave.’
• A complex sentence consisting of an independent clause followed by a dependent clause. ‘My colleague will be drafting the paper and seeking a publisher because I designed the methodology and conducted the research’ shows this structure without a comma between the clauses, whereas ‘I conducted the research by myself, although my colleague was in touch daily to offer advice’ requires a comma between the clauses. In both cases, the dependency of the second clause is indicated by words that are sometimes called dependency markers – ‘because’ and ‘although’ here.
• A complex sentence consisting of a dependent clause followed by an independent clause. ‘Although my colleague was in touch daily to offer advice, I conducted the research by myself’ and ‘Because I designed my methodology with additional controls, the results were more conclusive’ are correct examples. Notice that the dependent markers feature here as well, and the comma is standard after the dependent clause.
• A sentence, whether simple, compound or complex, that is embedded with an essential phrase or clause. Essential phrases and clauses are, as their name implies, necessary to convey the overall meaning of the sentence. In my example above, ‘I designed my methodology with additional controls, so the results were more conclusive,’ the prepositional phrase ‘with additional controls’ is necessary to the meaning of the sentence, so it is an essential phrase embedded in an independent clause and requires no special punctuation.
• A sentence, whether simple, compound or complex, that is embedded with a nonessential phrase or clause. Unlike an essential phrase or clause, a nonessential phrase or clause can be removed from a sentence without compromising the essential meaning of the entire sentence. In ‘I conducted the research by myself, although my colleague, who is the real specialist, was in touch daily to offer advice,’ the relative clause ‘who is the real expert’ provides interesting additional information, but it is not vital to the sentence’s main meaning, so it is a nonessential clause embedded in a dependent clause. Notice that a nonessential phrase or clause is surrounded by commas.
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