Writing Guide: Four Useful Sentence Constructions (and a note on citations)

A strong analytical sentence doesn’t simply make a point, but contextualizes that point; it shows why the point is being made, how true the point is, and in what ways the point compares to other points. In other words, a strong analytical sentence frequently gratifies the reader by hinting at a point to come with context clues—and then delivering that point.

Here are four ways to contextualize your point while generating and fulfilling your reader’s expectations. That is, here are four useful sentence constructions to incorporate into your writing (plus a note on citations):

“Not only____but____”

Insert obvious points into the more minor first clause in order to make the more major second clause seem all the more significant in comparison. For example:

○ “Not only was David very stylish, but he was also very smart.”

See what happened? A reader must accept the first clause, that David is stylish, as a given; it is only the question of the second clause, David’s smartness, that is at stake now. The “not only… but” construction emphasizes the significance of this latter point while sneaking in a first point as if it were obvious.ObviouslyDavid is stylish.

“Not only… but” clauses can be used in other ways as well:

○ A first clause can suggest supporting examples while a second can introduce a main example

○ A first clause can acknowledge minor counter-evidence while a second can introduce main point

Participial clauses before or after nouns

Participles are “-ing” words that act as adjectives; they can be especially useful after quotes for descriptive purposes. For example:

○ “I’ve memorized the sine of all 360 degrees,” noted David, polishing his glasses.

If a participle follows a noun, just make sure it applies to the last visible noun—otherwise it’s a dangling participle. (See here for how to fix dangling participles.)

That said, participles sound extremely dynamic when used before nouns — and offer an easy way to impress teachers:

○ “Affirming his tutoring prowess, David memorized the sine of all 360 degrees.”

“Instead of”

One of the keys to great analytical writing is to look at what author or speaker could have said. Then ask yourself: why did they say it this other way instead?

“Instead of” clauses are some of the few that benefit from repeated word choices:

○ “Instead of noting differences in their race, Scout only notes the differences in their grades.”

“What __ suggests”

Follow up quotes with this simple formulation: “What [author/speaker/character] [suggests/indicates/insinuates] is that…” For example:

○ “What Poe suggests is that he too will die.”

One last note: just avoid using the word “this” as a stand-alone noun. “What this suggests…” is a vague way to start a sentence, and in fact, the word “this” will always sound vague unless it is followed by a noun. Avoid sentences like “This is why he loves her” or “This can be understood…” by using “this” as as an adjective instead: “this process,” “this attempt,” “this objective”…


I guess this is it for sentence constructions (though what is this “this” and “it”?). There is one more construction to know however—citations.

○ As Hemingway writes, “I don’t know” (4).

To deploy MLA citations successfully, find a comma or period after a quote, and then just put the parenthetical citation (author, page#) before the comma or period. If it is already clear who the author is from the paragraph, as in the example above, there is no need to cite author.