Thoughts and brain dumps

Thoughts and brain dumps

By Andy Hawthorne. Words, photos, code and running…

09 Jan 2020

Mind those glue words

Reading time: 3 minute(s) - 500 words

Glue words are the words that hold a sentence together and give it meaning. But too many can ruin your prose. Here’s how to write without too much glue…

I’ll start by showing you an example.

But too many of them can mess up your prose

That’s a sticky sentence. It’s sticky because it has words that are glue - in an attempt to add meaning. It was the unedited sentence in my first paragraph.

But it’s not a case of stripping back until the sentence makes no sense. The idea is to strip back to clarify your meaning.

Strip back the guff

A rule to follow is this: why write two words when one will do? There will be times you’ll need to break this rule. But it’s a good one to follow as you write.

There’s something else, too. Avoiding glue in your sentences means you’ll edit your writing. That is a good thing. Editing always makes writing better.

Hang on, what are the glue words?

Spotting glue words

Here’s a list:

  • The
  • In
  • On
  • Was
  • For
  • That
  • Said
  • A
  • If
  • Of
  • To
  • There
  • Will
  • Be
  • What
  • Get
  • Go
  • Like

That’s not all of them. But a Google search will identify the others for you. Keep in mind that you can’t eliminate all of them. Most sentences needs some glue to make them a proper sentence.

Common glue word issues

The next question is: how do I avoid using too many glue words?

One mistake is to write complex sentences. This happens when you are explaining something. An explanation that would work spoken ends up difficult to read. You need to write it then read it out loud. You’ll hear the complexity.

Next, using because leads to back-loading of a sentence. So this:

I wore a head torch while I was running because the trail was pitch dark

Changes to:

_The trail was dark so I wore a head torch while running. _

The second version is simpler. It’s direct and easier to read.

Another problem is caused by cramming in the points. One sentence is for one point. If you add multiple points to a sentence clarity will suffer.

One more thing to avoid is adjective overload. Adjectives describe or modify other words. They help to make your writing specific and descriptive.

Too many of them get in the way. You end up with prose that is a jumble of descriptors that loses clarity. The skill is to use enough to keep your writing clear. But not so stripped back that it reads like a computer wrote it.

Glue words are fillers. Working words are the ones providing the action. You do have to use glue words, but the trick is not to use too many.

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