Skills for journalists in print and digital media.

Sentence length

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scissorsOne of the easiest ways to change and improve your writing is to tighten the average length of your sentences. This is especially true for journalists given to journalese and all its dependent clauses, excessive modifiers, and information packing. Attention to sentence length will force a variety of other decisions about focus, word selection, paragraph structure, and rhythm.

Most sources agree that a 15-20 word limit is a good target. Sentences of that length are easier to read, so readers understand and retain more. Sentences in that range also tend to focus clearly on one thing, and avoid branching or blurring the essential point.

A post on the Readability Monitor blog takes into account words, syllables and even characters when framing an ideal range for a readable sentence:

Sentences have three units of measure: words, syllables and characters. And so we may take the following as the new guideline: “Over the whole document, make the average sentence length 15-20 words, 25-33 syllables and 75-100 characters.”

Give it a try. Not every sentence has to fall exactly in that range. But severely limit the number that exceed 20 words, and vary the rhythm with even shorter sentences. This will work on many other aspects of your writing just as adding weight transforms an otherwise routine workout.


Written by mroberts8

October 30, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Posted in Editing, Writing

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