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Sentences and style

Learn about English sentence rules and style suggestions to help you become a more confident writer

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Welcome to sentences and style

There are many varieties of spoken and written English (sometimes called World Englishes), and all forms of English are valid. Even though you are already able to communicate effectively in your own English, you may notice that your writing style is different from your instructors', and if so, it may be helpful for you to understand what these differences are. Kelly et al. (2020) observe that “grammar is a situated practice,” meaning that writers choose “certain words and sentence structures and tenses (and so on) in certain communication and rhetorical situations and not in others” (para. 1). You may find that considering the intended audience for your writing can help you choose the grammatical and structural conventions that will let you share your ideas most clearly with your audience. The resources in this guide can help you learn more about sentence structure and style expectations when you’re writing for a North American academic audience. 

Academic audiences generally expect that writers will follow the grammatical conventions of academic English. These conventions include using complete sentences, following agreed-upon rules for punctuation and spelling, and keeping verb tenses consistent and appropriate to the action being described. No one form of English can be considered “standard” or “correct,” however, and writers may apply the conventions of academic English differently depending on the form(s) of English they use. Some common variations include word choice (e.g., prepositions), spelling (e.g., British, American, Canadian), and style (e.g., passive versus active sentence structure; circular or linear patterns of argument or storytelling). Students whose academic writing will be graded can sometimes experience a tension between their preferred style of writing and the conventions an instructor may expect them to follow. If you are unsure how the conventions of your written English will mesh with your instructor’s expectations, please talk with your instructor before submitting your assignment. Once you have had that conversation, please feel welcome to schedule an appointment with the Writing Centre. We would be happy to talk with you about developing your writing style, as well as any questions you have about writing in North American academic English! 


Kelly, E., Humphreys, S., Boldt, N., & Ami, N. (2020). Grammar as a situated practice. In S. Humphreys and E. Kelly (Eds.), Why write? A guide for students in Canada. Academic Writing Program, University of Victoria. 

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A sentence is "a group of words, usually containing a verb, which expresses a thought in the form of a statement, question, instruction or exclamation and starts with a capital letter when written" (Cambridge University Press, n.d., para. 1).

A well-crafted sentence is clear, concise, easy to understand, and contains all the necessary information to express the desired thought. This guide focuses on explaining how to build strong sentences by providing information on

  1. Sentence elements: Typical pieces that make up a sentence
  2. Parallel structure: Use patterns in lists in sentences to help readers understand
  3. Sentence errors: Common mistakes in sentences
  4. Concise writing: How to make sentences as direct and specific as possible
  5. Improve choppy writing: Suggestions of how to improve the flow of writing

You are welcome to jump into the section of the guide that is of most interest to you or navigate page-by-page through the guide using the navigation buttons at the bottom of each page.


Cambridge University Press. (n.d.). Sentence. Cambridge dictionary. Retrieved February 24, 2021, from

Qualities of academic writing

This video provides an overview of the qualities of academic writing. Those qualities are relevant to sentences because it's at the sentence level that authors make decisions that ensure their writing is clear, concise, easy to understand, and meets the expectations of the assignment.

The video will start automatically in browsers where autoplay of audio is enabled. If the video doesn't immediately begin, click the pause button and then click play.