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Thoughts on Writing

Simplify Your Sentences: Limit Your Sentence Length.

Research has proven that the ideal average length for a sentence is 10 to 17 words. Does this mean that you will die from having a 25-word sentence? No. Carefully crafted, sentences can sometimes far exceed the recommended length. The secret is that if you must have a 17+word sentence, sandwich it between two shorter ones to keep your average down.  MS Word will happily tell you your average sentence length if you sign up for grammar checking in the Review tab. 

Two ways exist for creating short, clear sentences: Write them clearly in the first place or edit them after you have succumbed to the urge to write a long convoluted piece of prose. The first is obviously preferable; if you know your purpose, your reader, and your main point before you begin to write, you will be much more likely to write succinctly in the first place. However, one must often tackle a multi-headed monster in the attempt to get average sentence length down to a reasonable level. Here are some tips that will help you succeed.

Sentence Simplification Checklist

Read the sentence aloud and listen for natural stops.
·         When you stop and your voice inflects downward, put in a period.
·         Create complete sentences from what’s left over.You might need to restate the subject or the verb.

Break the sentence apart at conjunctions.
·         Look for conjunctions like and, or, but and others. 
·         Cross out the conjunction.
·         Create two complete, shorter sentences in place of the longer one. You may have to restate the subject for the second sentence.

Break the sentence apart at relating words like that, which, and who.
·         That, which, and who mark the spots where the main, independent part of a sentence joins the subordinate, dependent part of the sentence. Thus they are natural spots for breaking the sentence into shorter, simpler chunks of writing.
·         Simply eliminate the relating word and create one or more shorter sentences as necessary.

Use the active voice.
·         Check for by phrases and helping verbs that might indicate the passive voice.
·         Rewrite the sentence, putting the verb in the active voice. 
·         The grammatical subject (core noun) should be the one who does the main action. 

Eliminate –ation words and needless noun phrases.
·         Check for words that end with "-ation" or "ibility" .Cross out the ending and ask yourself what verb you can form from this base. 
·         Look for words like thought, use, request, need, and others that you can use either as verbs or as nouns.   Use them as verbs. 

Sentence Simplification Example
Take the following sentence:
Operating expenses increased 1.3% however in absolute dollars decreased $2,990m.  Interest expenses decreased $165m and as a result a pre-tax loss of $2,072m was incurred for the current eight- month period versus a pre-tax loss of $1,978m last year. (Average sentence length 19.5)

It can profitably be written like this:

Operating expenses increased 1.3%.  However, expenses decreased $2,990m in absolute dollars.  Interest expenses decreased $165m, leading to a pre-tax loss of $2,072m for the current eight-month period. This loss compares to a pre-tax loss of $1,978m last year. (Average sentence length 9.5.)

Simplifying your sentences by shortening them will make your words easier to understand. Even if you have a complex message to convey, breaking it into manageable spoonfuls of information will help you get through to your readers.

So eliminate structures that commit you to long-windedness. Divide long sentences at conjunctions and relating words. Dare to say your piece briefly and powerfully. Your readers will reward you for your efforts.

©2012 Elizabeth Danziger All rights reserved

Tired of reading unclear, error-filled writing from your organization? Ready to transform the quality of your firm’s writing? Contact Elizabeth Danziger today to learn about the Worktalk Core Writing Trainings.  Call (310) 396-8303 or write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Why choose WorkTalk trainings?

  • Taught by a professional writer. +

    These courses are not taught by a general skills trainer who happens to teach writing. Elizabeth Danziger has been published by major publishing houses such as Random House and Harcourt Brace. Her work has appeared in many national magazines. She is an expert writer and editor who brings her knowledge as a resource to participants.
  • Customized. +

    Every Worktalk training is customized to the client's needs. We meet with you, analyze writing samples from your organization, and customize our training to target the specific challenges that employees in your organization face.
  • Energetic and entertaining. +

    With plenty of exercises and opportunities for interaction, the Worktalk trainings move quickly. Subjects that were terrifying in grammar school become fun and interesting in these outstanding programs.
  • Proven results. +

    In trainings all over the country, Ms. Danziger has enabled participants to streamline their organizing process, eliminate persistent errors, and drastically cut their revision time. Clients spend less time on key communications while producing better relationships and results. Sales people get more positive responses from prospects.
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