Balance sentence length

Ideal ratio of long to short sentences?

Is there an ideal ratio of long to short sentences? A tip in John R. Trimble’s Writing with Style  made me ponder this question.

Trimble says:

As a rule of thumb, whenever you’ve written three longish sentences in a row, make your fourth a short one. And don’t fear the super-short sentence. It’s arresting. Sometimes just a single word will be plenty long.

It’s a good idea to vary your sentence length. Same-length sentences—even if they’re short, not long—grow monotonous.

A short sentence—like “it’s arresting” in Trimble’s tip—gives readers a chance to breathe. Be kind to your readers.

 

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3 replies
  1. Andrea Charles
    Andrea Charles says:

    This is the best article I have come across today. It will be very helpful for me as I am just a beginner in the writing world. Your tips are very genuine and practical. You writing present a sense of power and control. Hats off to your tips and style.

    Reply
  2. Barry Dunaway
    Barry Dunaway says:

    Susan,

    I agree that it’s good advice to mix up sentence length. Then again, rules of thumb have to be used with care.

    When writing posts for a WordPress site, I’ve noted the flags raised by a plugin like Yoast SEO. The advice is often very useful, such as breaking up a long stretch of text with sub-headings. But they have other rules that can be stultifying, such as having a certain percentage of sentences linked by transition words and making sure that keywords are used in the headline, first sentence and sub-headings.

    Maybe the best approach is to take note of these rules but to leave off when they interfere with a good, natural-sounding rhythm for an article.

    Reply
  3. Susan
    Susan says:

    Barry,
    I like the way you think! There’s truth to the saying that “rules are made to be broken.”
    That Yoast transition word rule drives me crazy, too.

    Reply

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