The Struggle to Structure Short Sentences

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“But the longer the sentence, the less readable it’s likely to be, and the more exposed to mishaps or syntax.  The remedy is simple: Chop up long sentences into their functional components and aim for an average sentence length of 16 to 17 words” (Cappon 37). 

I like Cappon’s writing style and format.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, he practices what he preaches.  He keeps his chapters succinct and gets right to his point.  He also does not just “tell,” he “shows” the principles he is talking about by giving real examples from real news articles.  He explains what is wrong with them and then improves them. 

I have a tendency to write long sentences…and long paragraphs…and long papers…and yes, even sometimes long blogs.  It is difficult for me to sort through all the details and information and decide what should be left out.  What is most important?  After all, what I think is most interesting may not be what is most interesting to everyone else.  But deciding what should get cut and stay in the article is not the only place where things need to be simplified.  As Cappon explains, every single part of the article needs simplified (including the very word choices). 

The focus of chapter 4 is on simplifying sentences.  While it is good to have sentences of various lengths and some can be longer than 17 words in order to switch things up and keep the article interesting to the reader, Cappon says the average length of a sentence should be 16 to 17 words (which means I’m in trouble because there were about 45 words in this sentence…).  However, it really does make sense to keep the sentences shorter.  The longer a sentence the easier it is for the reader to get lost.  It reminds me of something that I read in my Linguistics textbook.  It explained that sentences can be as long as one likes, they are only limited by our ability to understand what we’re saying ourselves and the person we are talking to understanding what we are saying.  Well, the longer the sentence the easier for everyone involved to get confused and for the writer to make a syntactical error.  So, the easiest thing to do for everyone involved is to keep the sentences short and simple, as difficult as that may sometimes be.  A complicated and long sentence does not prove one’s intelligence; it just leads to possible confusion for readers. 

Read more on Cappon chapter 4.

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