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How to Give Your Writing Rhythm: Vary Your Sentence Lengths

By Wilma Davidson, Ed.D, Pen Woman in Letters

Successful writing usually averages 15-20 words per sentence. But that doesn’t mean you need to write all your sentences to conform to these limits because you would surely bore most of your readers with your never-changing pace.

Instead, vary lengths. Your readers will enjoy the shifting rhythm and, in fact, will find themselves caught up in your effective control of sentence length. Short sentences provide emphasis. The shorter the sentence, the bigger its punch. Short sentences move your writing. But too many short ones, huddled together, don’t work. Rather, they make your writing choppy or singsongy. Or juvenile sounding. Try plopping a short sentence or two in between your longer ones, and marvel at the resulting power it will give your writing.

Longer sentences slow down the pace and can help balance your writing. Like a river or a road, long sentences wind their way along a stretch of paper, more relaxed and quiet than short sentences, deliberate and slow, as they unfold and describe, releasing information little by little, providing details almost endlessly until they decide finally to stop.

Although such sentences are occasionally useful—to change the pace—they subordinate, or bury, too much information in them and, as a result, are generally ineffective for presenting your major message or idea.

The answer? It’s the combination of long and short, mixed wisely, that makes your audience say, “That was a good piece of writing.”

Excerpted from The Third Revision of Business Writing: What Works, What Won’t, page 80.

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