One of the most common actions we take when editing for clients is shortening sentences. It can be really tempting to do a complete brain dump before sticking in that full stop. You might get lots of punctuation such as commas, colons and semi-colons. Or perhaps several different points being made like a daisy-chain or a set of Russian dolls. But you will definitely get confusion or apathy in your readers as they wrestle with the structure of your words.
Why are short sentences important?
And this is why short sentences are important. Short sentences improve flow and add clarity to your writing. They make it easier for people to understand what you are saying. Like short paragraphs they also look better on a page, making your words more inviting to read in the first place.
That said, there is no optimum length of sentence. And sometimes you will have little choice but to be more discursive. Because sometimes the alternative would be jolting, rather unsatisfactory writing.
At On Point Copywriting, we like to see variable sentence lengths within a piece of copy. After all, they say variety is the spice of life and this applies to writing too: from your punchy one, two or three word sentence all the way through to some that sprawl to 25 words plus. We would expect most to be in a 10 to 20 word bracket though.
How to shorten sentences
The biggest single thing you can do is think about what you are trying to say. Try to limit each sentence to one specific point. Therefore, if you read back a long sentence and identify several points being covered, the transitions between each of these will probably be the natural place to add sentence breaks.
Helpfully, these may be marked by some punctuation like a comma or semi-colon. So a good discipline is to constantly look at your use of these and ask yourself how you might alter your writing by replacing them with a full stop. Full stops will very often be the better choice.
When doing this, don’t be afraid to use “conjunction” words like “and”, “because” and “but” to start your new sentences. You may have been taught at school that you could not start a sentence with such “connecting” words. But it is perfectly acceptable in most modern business writing to do so. And in fact it actually helps readers move on from sentence to sentence.
Another signal for breaking up a long sentence is the presence of words like “which” and “that”. Instead of these try adding a full stop and start a new with a word such as “This”. It won’t always work and just be mindful of getting the balance right between shorter sentences and your writing becoming clunky.
Occasionally, you could use other punctuation instead of a full stop. It will depend on context, but sometimes a colon or a dash may serve this purpose.
One final tip is to read the passage out loud as if you were delivering a speech with plenty of long pauses in it, to let the information sink into your imaginary audience. Wherever you would add a pause, consider inserting a full stop.
Shorten my sentence
Consistently writing short sentences takes a bit of practice for it to become natural. But it is certainly good practice if you want people to read and understand what you write. And if you really struggle with this, or simply don’t have time, why not consider using a professional editing service like that of On Point Copywriting?