Keep Your Sentences and Paragraphs
to a Reasonable Length





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Keep your sentences and paragraphs to a reasonable length. It may be that television and the Internet have made all of us less patient readers than we should be. Whatever the reason, it’s a fact that many of us quickly become impatient with lengthy sentences or paragraphs especially when we’re reading online and have to scroll the text up a few lines at a time. That’s when we may stop reading, so it’s definitely in a writer’s best interest to try to keep sentences and paragraphs reasonably short. See Chapter 8 for More Discussion of Paragraphing.


Paragraphs :


You can check on paragraph length in different ways, but the simple is just to look at what you’ve written. Does a single paragraph take up almost a whole screen or whole page? If so, it’s probably too long and you need to find places to break it. (See
Chapter 8 on Paragraphing for specific suggestions.) Ask yourself if you are trying to cover too much in one stretch and would do better to focus on one small point at a time. Readers can process only a limited amount of information at a time and if you crowd too much data into a few paragraphs, they’ll lose interest.


For example, this paragraph is overstuffed:


It takes a bold paleface to attempt a comprehensive history of Native American life nowadays – after being forced to swallow five hundred years of insulting and mainly inaccurate Anglo – European generalizations about their character and behavior, the Native Americans are justifiably tetchy. Get it wrong and Russell means, the activist – turned – actor who has managed to play both the last of the Mohicans (Chingachgook in Michael Mann’s adaptation of James Fennimore Cooper’s novel) and the fiercest of the Sioux {Sitting bull, in my own Buffalo Girls) might show up on your doorstep, wearing his bight hat. Or Vine Deliria, Jr., the unmellowed Sloux polemicist, might launch a lightning bolt or two possibly from that bastion of nativism, the Op– Ed page of the New York Times: or the young rumbler from the northwest, Sherman Alexia, recently anointed by Granta as one paleface talk shows and complain. (
Larry Mc Murtry : Chopping Down the Sacred Tree)


You will find more about this caution in
Chapter 8 on Paragraphing and in the next section on Chunking Your Writing.


Sentences :


Your sense of your audience should help you decide how long to make your sentences. If you’re writing an opinion column for a newsletter or an editorial for the college paper, you can assume that your readers are probably reading hurriedly and won’t take time to process long complex or rambling sentences. You also would intuitively write relatively short sentences if you were creating a web page for a club you belong to or writing a presentation you will be giving orally.


More experienced readers, such as your instructors or people who read a great deal in their profession, can, of course, handle relatively long sentences without any problem. Larry Mc Murtry, for example, originally published the essay quoted above in the New York review of books which appeals to highly educated, expert readers. Even so, we think McMutry’s sentences are too long and complicated. Why tax readers’ patience? Who ever your audience is, it’s good rule of thumb to check your sentences for length as you revise and edit. When you see a sentence is running to more than six or seven lines on the page or screen, look to see if you can break it up. Usually you can and you will probably improve it in the process.


And it is possible to make long sentences readable. Use people or specific nouns as your sentence subjects. Focus on showing someone doing something. Use active verbs. Avoid strung – out noun or verb phrases. You can also make a long sentence readable by writing a sequence of parallel clauses, particularly when each clause is colorful and interesting in itself.


For Instance :


Long distances buses have become the habitat of busted souls who’ve lost their cars to the finance company or lost their licenses because of driving drunk, of childless, indigent old people or frightened new immigrants from Laos, Nigeria or Guatemala who have too many kids to manage, of people who have just been released from an institution, of people who have just been released from an institution, of legally blind people like me. (
Edward Hoagland : I can see)


Of course writers who create sentences like this expend time and effort to get such striking results. It’s not easy, but elegant sentence can be worth the investment.


Other Pages in This Section :


Choose A Good Title.

Write Strong Leads.

Keep Your Writing Tight And Unified.

Chunk Your Writing Into Manageable Units.

Avoid Antagonizing Your Readers.

Make Your Writing Look Good.

Use Figurative And Connotative Language Sparingly.

Avoid Stereotypes And Offensive Labeling.

Maintain A Civil Tone.










Successful Writing Index





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