The Writing Center

Elegant Explanations: Longer Sentences


Certain kinds of punctuation make elegant explanations, and if there is one thing all college students do, it’s explain things in writing.  Try these fairly simple yet elegant techniques for improving your sentence and style variety.  Practice each one with a subject area you have recently studied.


Most people think of colons for lists, but they can also be used to announce or explain.

Chinese art of the Sung Dynasty has a poetic quality:  it creates an awareness of a silent space rather than of how beautiful a particular landscape looks.

For Example

Too many students misuse the expression “for example.”  They embed it in a sentence when they should use it to start a new thought.

Chinese art of the Sung Dynasty has a poetic quality.  For example, in Ma Lin’s Orchids the position of each branch of the orchid creates a silent space so that we see the space first, not the orchid.

Chinese art of the Sung Dynasty has a poetic quality; for example, ….


Once in awhile, you can use a dash in academic writing for emphasis.

The Chinese so valued their writing and art instruments that when in the Tang Dynasty an ink maker vastly improved the quality of ink, he was rewarded handsomely—he was given the Imperial Emperor’s family name.

Semicolon + That Is or Namely

You can explain using a semicolon and add either “that is” or “namely” after it.

The Chinese venerated their writing and art instruments; that is, they were considered instruments of recording their heritage and tradition, not merely tools.

We’re going to continue learning easy techniques that make your writing more elegant.


No one quite knows why 3 things in a sentence sound good—but they do.  Two or 4 do not sound as nice.  You do not have to force this, but when you can, give it a try.  You can write 3 words, phrases, clauses or even whole sentences.  Keep in mind two cautions:  keep terms grammatically parallel (see below) and if you use a verb you have to use a semicolon rather than a comma.


Word Series
Chinese art is poetic, enigmatic, eternal.
Art history is exciting and tedious, inspiring and difficult, playful and somber.

Phrase Series
The Sung Dynasty painters created elegance in their artwork, in their criticism, and in their legacy.

Clause Series
Whenever we look at Sung Dynasty landscape painting, we marvel at its silence; we become involved in its tranquility; and we are transported by the immediacy of the gentle scene.

Series That Is Not Parallel (Sounds Awful!)
Computer listservs can be exciting and informative, keep me reading too long, and why can’t they accept anonymous posts. 


You’ve seen these in reading—try a few.  The abbreviation e.g. means for example; the abbreviation i.e. means that is.  You can also use parentheticals to enclose your own private thoughts and thereby make your sentences a bit more charming with your own voice.

The writing of Flannery O’Connor never bores me (no matter that every story ends with violence).
A wonderful museum (e.g. Museum of Modern Art) can be exciting and exhausting.
His speech this Sunday (i.e. the one on the space station) was great.

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