When writing about complex or technical issues , here are five quick tips for producing shorter, simpler sentences that almost guarantee reader understanding, according to research by the American Press Institute:
- Write short, declarative sentences in which someone or something performs a specific action on some person or object. “The dog ate my homework.” “
- Avoid passive and linking constructions of the verb “to be.”
- Read your copy and circle every comma. Commas often signal the presence of redundant or extraneous material or opportunities for breaking long sentences into multiple shorter sentences.
- To shorten your copy, review it to circle every occurrence of the word “to.” There you likely will quickly and easily find passive verb use or extraneous language that adds to sentence length and complexity. (The benefit – a 29 percent reduction in word count as shown here: “Shorten copy by reviewing it, then circling each ‘to.’ There you likely will find passive verbs or extraneous language that increases sentence length and complexity.”)
- Finally, a key cause of long, complex sentences is the authorial “by god, I spent time researching this and you’re going to learn it.” Au contraire. Writers serve readers. Ask yourself what your readers need or want. Then give them that information and nothing more. Appendices were created for the material you excise.
Bonus Tip: If all else fails, select “Readability Statistics” found under Tools/Options in the Microsoft Word toolbar. It automatically calculates average sentence length, readability and other reader usability measures, providing you a simple learning opportunity.