Long and convoluted sentences affect comprehension and readability. Period. Without careful crafting, they can be really hard to understand. Then again, too short sentences make for choppy writing without flow and cannot hold complex thoughts.
Is there a way to optimize sentence length? Fortunately, yes.
Here are some tips:
- 1. Appropriate sentence length: Most readability formulas use the number of words in a sentence to measure its difficulty. Try to keep the average sentence length of your document around 20–25 words. This is a good rule of thumb to convey your meaning in a balanced way and avoiding marathon or choppy sentences. The number varies as per the field, audience, or the nature of writing. For example, the average sentence length in abstracts of the natural sciences is reported to be shorter than that found in social science and humanities abstracts.
- 2. Vary your sentence length: Do not follow a strict length for each and every sentence. Your writing should have a mix of short, medium, and long sentences. The above tip suggests an average for a long sentence. Incorporating variety in academic writing avoids monotony, creates emphasis where needed, and helps the reader understand connections between different points. If you find that your sentence is as long as a paragraph or around 40–50 words, break it down to smaller sentences. Similarly, if your text has many back-to-back short sentences, join them.
- 3. Focus on your message: Do not cram two or three main ideas into one long sentence. Know your main points and present them with pauses by breaking them down into smaller sentences. Losing focus of your message will lead to long drawn-out sentences and disjointed writing. When conveying a series of facts, do not unnecessarily connect all facts in one sentence but split them into smaller sentences.
- 4. Fixing short sentences: Combining sentences into a longer one is a simple way of fixing short and choppy sentences. Use coordinating conjunctions (or, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) to avoid strings of short, vaguely related sentences. Subordinating conjunctions (after, since, whereas, because, etc.) are also used to connect sentences as well as ideas effectively.
- 5. Fixing long sentences: Following the reverse of the above tip, remove excessive coordinating conjunctions and instead use a full stop to start a fresh sentence. Avoid starting a sentence with qualifiers such as “although,” “because,” or “since.” Avoid comma-plagued sentences and adding information in one long sentence using commas.
- 6. Use concise expressions: Writing concisely and avoiding redundancy play a huge role in securing your text from marathon sentences. You could avoid beginning sentences with there/it is, reduce wordy phrases and nonessential prepositional phrases, and use the active voice.