How to Avoid Sticky Sentences and Be a Better Writer

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.

Sticky Sentences

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: Bad Example“Because of what I went through, my desire for being in the medical field has increased even more.”

Original word count: 18 words

Sticky words: what I went through, even more

Edited sentence: Good example“Because of my experiences, my desire to work in the medical field has increased.”

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: Bad Example “Now I want to go for my second step and go to university to finish my prerequisites.”

Original word count: 17 words

Sticky words: now, and, to go, for my second step

Edited: Good example“I want to go to university to finish my prerequisites.”

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:   Bad Example“It was a sad story that we could tell he would be successful in accounting, but he was forced to learn another thing he had never thought about.”

Original word count: 28

Sticky words: that, another thing, about

Sticky Sentences
Image Credit: The Found Animals Foundation

 

Edited: Good example “It was a sad story. We could tell he would be successful in accounting, but he was forced to learn something he had never considered.”

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: Bad Example“My parents have helped me a lot in education because since I was a kid they have led me to learn many different kinds of things.”

Original word count: 26

Sticky words: in, a lot, have led, because, a, different kinds, things

Edited: Good example “My parents helped me with my education. Since I was young, they have encouraged me to learn many 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: Bad Example “Jane was not the only one who was very interested; Lauren was equally curious, and secretly believed that Fred was slightly jealous of the successful doctor.”

Original word count: 26

Sticky words: very, equally, slightly

 

Sticky Sentences

Edited: Good example“Jane was not the only one who was interested; Lauren was curious too, and secretly believed that Fred was jealous of the successful doctor.”

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: Bad Example“In regards to tomorrow’s meeting, the main focus should be on the different kinds of projects that need to be researched about.”

Original word count: 22

Sticky words: in regards to, main, kinds, about

Edited: Good example“Regarding tomorrow’s meeting, the focus should be on the different projects that need to be researched.”

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.

Good luck!

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