Of Rambles and Run-ons
July 11, 2013
Dear Writing Diary,
It has recently come to my attention that I write with a lot of run-on sentence this is a serious problem, especially in terms of my writing’s clarity. I understand that it makes it harder for my audience to comprehend my texts’ meanings but I do not understand how to fix my weakness, it just makes much more sense to me to combine like ideas into one sentence. I suppose it’s possible that I’m slightly confused about what exactly a sentence is in terms of necessary constructions and intended purposes and until I figure it all out, I have stopped writing entirely. I have also heard that in creative writing it’s sometimes okay to ignore certain grammar rules for style but is this something I can continue to get away with and still maintain clarity with my readers? I feel like I ramble on and on and on and on until I notice that I have written three pages with no point or punctuation I know this is a serious issue that is impacting my writing’s clarity, credibility, and focus. PLEASE HELP!
The Rambling Run-on Writer
Dear Ramblin’ Writer,
The good news is that you have most certainly identified a weakness in your writing: You do indeed write with quite a few run-on sentences. The bad news is that this mechanical issue can make your writing very confusing and convoluted for your audience. Furthermore, punctuation acts as pause or break in writing for your readers, and without the necessary periods, commas, and semicolons, your writing can feel very wordy and rambling. There is more good news, though! Once you understand the main principles of writing without or revising run-on sentences, they will be easy to correct and even avoid. Let’s get started with the basics:
What should a sentence accomplish?
A sentence is a group of words that has both a subject and a predicate. It can convey a statement, exclamation, or a question. But how you write this information is important, as clarity should be of top priority for a writer.
What is a run-on sentence?
Contrary to popular belief, a run-on sentence is actually not based on length. A run-on sentence is a combination of two or more independent clauses or clauses that can stand alone as a sentence. Most of the time, this means the complete thought is communicated in regard to a subject and verb with more constructions and parts being added with each new piece of information.
Now, let’s talk about why run-on sentences are detrimental to writing. It’s true that in creative writing, certain grammar rules are overlooked in lieu of style, but typically, I recommend not writing with run-ons. Run-ons are confusing for the reader since there is usually too much information in one sentence. It’s similar to writing words without spaces. SeewhenIwritethissentencewithoutspaceshowdifficultitistotellwhereonewordendsandanotherbegins? It’s the same with run-ons; they make it difficult to tell where one idea ends and the next idea begins.
Now that you know how to identify a run-on sentence, let’s work on identifying them in your own writing and correcting the habit.
In your letter to me, you wrote the following:
I understand that it makes it harder for my audience to comprehend my texts’ meanings but I do not understand how to fix my weakness, it just makes much more sense to me to combine like ideas into one sentence.
While you wrote this as only one thought, or one sentence, this is actually three complete sentences, or complete thoughts, that can stand alone. The first independent sentence is, I understand that it makes it harder for my audience to comprehend my texts’ meanings. This is a complete sentence because it communicates a single idea with only one subject (in blue) and one verb (in orange). Here are your second and third complete sentences from your original sentence:
I do not understand how to fix my weakness.
It just makes much more sense to me to combine like ideas into one sentence.
[The word but was omitted because it is acting as a coordinating conjunction in the sentence to join two complete thoughts.]
Here is your sentence again without any run-on structures:
I understand that it makes it harder for my audience to comprehend my texts’ meanings, but I do not understand how to fix my weakness. It just makes much more sense to me to combine like ideas into one sentence.
In this version, your first two sentences are joined by a comma and the coordinating conjunction but. To properly join two sentences this way, you must use both a coordinating conjunction AND a comma. Other coordinating conjunctions are and, or, yet, for, nor, & so. You mention that you like to join thoughts that are alike together, and this is an example of when that is a great idea. The two sentences do work together to clearly communicate a point and further explain that point. Really, your only error thus far is your omission of the comma. However, after the word weakness, your run-on gets a bit more complicated.
You must put a period after weakness because you have already joined two complete thoughts. Joining more than two sentences is a big no-no. By joining another complete sentence to a compound sentence, you created a run-on. There is also a comma splice in this sentence. For more information on avoiding comma splices, see our earlier “Dear Diary” feature that addresses this common issue.
There are a lot of ways to correct run-on sentences. You can use the combination of a coordinating conjunction and comma or break these structures up into independent sentences, as in the examples above. Semicolons are another option. For example, I understand that it makes it harder for my audience to comprehend my texts’ meanings. I do not understand how to fix my weakness; it just makes much more sense to me to combine like ideas into one sentence. Lastly, you can always rework a run-on sentence into a single statement that can stand as one independent sentence.
See! With all these options, run-on sentences are easy to fix once you get the hang of it! If you struggle with run-ons, try assigning one idea per sentence until you get the hang of writing without them. Then during your revision process, experiment with correctly joining two sentences using some of the constructions we’ve discussed.
In review, run-ons muddle the waters of writing and make it difficult to tell where one thought ends and another begins. With these tips for correcting and avoiding them all together, you should be back to writing in no time.