Short sentences are great.
They’re quick. They’re punchy. They catch your reader’s eye.
Here are three top tips for using them in your writing:
Mix it up
Whatever you’re writing, short sentences can help to break up the text.
Great writers use a mixture of sentence lengths. Next time you’re reading a good article online or in the newspaper, look at the sentences. You’ll usually find a mixture of long, medium and short sentences.
You can use a short sentence after a longer one to underline your point or simply to add rhythm:
We believe that some students have been taking books out of the university library, removing the covers and placing them on a different book to return to the library. This is theft.
After your visit to Wafflington Cathedral we recommend that you cross the Southgate Bridge to Drawnbeck Hill. The view is spectacular.
Watch out for the runaway sentence
A ‘run on’ sentence is a sentence that runs on and on and on:
On Saturdays we come in at 8am so that the trampolines are set up in time for the Kids’ Club but on the first Friday of every month we have an evening session for primary school children so on those weeks we can leave the trampolines out overnight so we don’t need to come in until 8.30am.
That is a monster sentence. Let’s try and break it up into more manageable chunks:
On most Saturdays we come in at 8am to set up the trampolines in time for the Kids’ Club.
However, on the first Friday of every month we have an evening session for primary school children. On those weeks we can leave the trampolines out overnight so we don’t need to come in until 8.30am.
Divide and conquer
As a writer, it’s easy to get carried away. You might not be in the habit of writing ‘run on’ sentences, but perhaps you are rather partial to a sentence that (like this one) is somewhat longer than it really needs to be.
Here’s another example of a long sentence:
Although the first set of results might lead us to assume that Agro Fertiliser was the most effective product, the subsequent tests show that the RadiGrow Formula was in fact the standout product overall.
This is a perfectly fine sentence, but we can make it better. Let’s see if we can divide it up a bit.
The first set of results might lead us to assume that Agro Fertiliser was the most effective product.
However, the subsequent tests show that the RadiGrow Formula was in fact the standout product overall.
A very simple tweak gives us two shorter sentences. It’s quicker to read and easier to follow, but still quite formal. If you were writing a report, for example, this would work well.
But what if we wanted the sentences to be even shorter?
Look at the first set of results. Agro Fertiliser seems to be the most effective product.
However, the rest of the tests tell a different story. It turns out that the RadiGrow Formula was the standout product overall.
With a little more work, we’ve ended up with four even shorter sentences. Very short sentences aren’t going to be appropriate in every context but they’re a great way to catch your reader’s attention and keep them reading.
Ready to start cutting down those sentences? Come back on Thursday for sentence trimming practice in the Write for Real People Workshop.