Long sentences can be dangerous. When our sentences are too long, we tend to lapse into the passive voice and we risk making tense and punctuation mistakes.
Run-on sentences also distract the writer and the reader. We tend to veer off course and forget the purpose of our communications. They also force the reader to work harder.
Six ways to trim the fat:
- Use readability statistics. Activate this on your computer and it’ll do the counting for you. Remember you want to work with an average number of words. It is also important to vary the length of your sentences. [Read: Why You Should Care About Readability Statistics]
- Count the commas. If you are not listing items, and your sentence has more than three commas, you should consider splitting the sentence.
- Cut unnecessary conjunctions. Conjunctions join sentences. Find them and decide if you can remove them and make two sentences instead of one.
- One thought per paragraph. We tend to read the first sentence in a paragraph and then we scan the rest of the paragraph. If you introduce second and third points later in the same paragraph, your reader may miss them.
- Remove redundant words. We add words that don’t add value. If you can remove a word from the sentence and it doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence you don’t need the word. [Read 19 Examples of Redundancy]
- Reduce your word count. Challenge yourself to cut 1/4 of the words. This will force you to evaluate each word. Do not cut crucial information, though. Make sure you have answered the five Ws and one H.
You will be able to structure your message if you plan your communication. The Inverted pyramid will help you decide what needs to go first. Think about what you want to say and what you want your reader to do after reading the message.
If you are interested in learning how to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme.
by Mia Botha
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