Friday, October 14, 2005

Keep It Simple

Prefer short, simple sentences and common words.

Your sentences should average 14 to 20 words. In fiction with many short lines of dialog, the average sentence length is deceptively low, so aim low.

This guideline doesn't mean that all long sentences are bad. In fact, you should vary sentence length. But long sentences should be infrequent and simply structured. For example, a long sentence comprised of a subject, verb, and a series -- in that order -- is easy to read and process. But a long sentence that contains several clauses, compound subjects or verbs, and strings of prepositional phrases is hard to read and process.

The natural word order in English is SUBJECT >>> VERB >>> OBJECT. This is the order the brain processes information. The closer you stick to this order, the easier your writing is to read. When, say, you invert the order of the subject and verb, the reader cannot process the sentence on the fly, and must wait till she reaches the subject. Therefore, be sure the subject comes near the beginning of any sentence more than a few words long.

Choose words for clarity and precision. Prefer everyday words when you have a choice. In fact, shorter words are usually more precise.



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