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This chapter is from the book

Writing Shorter Sentences

Okay, so you need to write paragraphs that are only a few sentences long. You also need to keep those few sentences relatively short.

The Internet is no place for picturesque prose. It’s a just the facts, ma’am, medium, with no tolerance for wasted words.

That means you need to pare your sentences down to the bare essentials. Don’t use a lot of rhetorical flourishes; do the subject-verb thing with a minimum of adjectives and adverbs. Use only what you need to get the point across.

Shorter sentences have the added benefit of being more powerful. A sentence is certainly more understandable when the reader doesn’t have to negotiate a maze of commas and clauses. Shorter sentences are more direct; getting to the point more quickly helps the reader digest and ultimately remember the message better than with longer, more involved sentences.

The easiest way to write shorter sentences is to discipline yourself to do so. Beyond that, you can pare down longer sentences by removing unnecessary verbiage and by rewriting sentences with multiple clauses into multiple sentences. Don’t try to say two things in a single sentence; use two sentences instead. (Not like I just did in that sentence, by the way.)

Here’s an example of a long compound sentence, taken from the previous paragraph example:

  • This non-intrusive process leaves little to no signature behind, so that monitoring can continue without detection or interruption.

You make it more readable by breaking it in two, like this:

  • This non-intrusive process leaves little to no signature behind. Monitoring can then continue without detection or interruption.

Reads better, don’t you think?

What’s the right length for a sentence? There’s no minimum; in conversational writing, a sentence can consist of a single word. (Really.) In terms of maximum length, keep it to no more than 10 or 12 words, if you can. Focus on the main idea and excise anything that doesn’t contribute to that.

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