Sentence Style

The best methods for teaching students to restyle their sentences for readability are the techniques elaborated by Richard Lanham in what he calls the “paramedic method” and the techniques for promoting a kind of narrative clarity (with sentence elements understood as agent, action, and story) developed at the University of Chicago by Wayne Booth, Joseph Williams, and Gregory Colomb as the core of the University of Chicago’s “Little Red School House” for academic writers, and set forth in several documents, most prominently  Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, and The Craft of Research, 4th Ed. University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Some instructors, once having taught students one of these methods, will offer at the start of each class a sentence for revision. This keeps the method fresh and helps students pay attention to language choices and their effects.

The Paramedic Method
Lanham’s paramedic method was first set forth in his Analyzing Prose. 2nd Ed. New York: Continuum, 2003. In the 1980’s, Lanham produced a short video that, though it will seem old-fashioned to students, does a splendid job of reviewing each of the main principles of the method.  Here are two handouts for students: one,The Paramedic Method Explained; the other a Set of Practice Sentences. The video, uploaded below, can be found here.


Joseph Williams, Lessons on Style
Joseph Williams’ approach to revising sentence style is explained in his Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, 12 Ed. Boston: Pearson, 2016. This handout offers the most pertinent chapters of his book.

Style Lessons