Friday, August 31, 2012

Writing Articles (Part 16 of 21)

Shorten those sentences.

Grumble if you like, but terse-and-clear is the mark of good writing. 

Whether or not you think a sentence is too short, in order to write well, it probably isn't too short at all.

Read that 22-word sentence again. You can cut words. Whether implies or not. At all is redundant and you can cut in order. I'd suggest you make the sentence read this way: If you think a sentence is too short, it probably isn't. Not only is the revision shorter, but it's clearer and more readily understood.

When I first started to write, the late Charlie Shedd taught, "Never make a sentence longer than 15 words." His words were a bit arbitrary, but in those days 50 words wasn't too long for a sentence. Yet I vigilantly limited my sentences so I didn't exceed than that number. After a time, however, I realized that 15 makes choppy writing.

Here's how I say it today: "Let your sentences average no more than 20 words." Good writing doesn't demand a word limit on a sentence. Take as long as you need to express a thought. Afterward, go back and ask if you can eliminate words or perhaps make a long sentence into two.

If you write succinctly and clearly, you're one rung higher on the good-writer ladder. You can figure out the antithesis of that statement. Antithesis is a good word, but it may be beyond the vocabulary of some readers. Why not say the opposite? That's another tip.

Good writers cut ruthlessly. 
I am becoming a good writer, so I cut ruthlessly.


  1. Thank you for this practical instruction. The more I write, the more I realize the value of writing succinctly. I've got a ways yet to go. Thank you.

  2. Good advice, if hard, at first, to follow.
    As an aside, I just found a quote of yours:

    "Write what you know. Write what you want to know more about. Write what you’re afraid to write about."

    I like this very much, and am featuring it (fully attributed and linked to this site, of course) on my writing blog tomorrow afternoon.

    Glad I found your site. I've subscribed.


What are your thoughts?