Write short sentences (why and how)

One of the most effective ways of improving the effectiveness and readability of your content is to write shorter sentences. The shorter your sentences, the happier your readers. The happier your readers, the greater the trust. The greater the trust, the better the relationship. The better the relationship, the more likely they are to carry out a desired action.

And so on. You get the picture – short sentences make for clearer, more concise and comprehensible content. Read on for more detail on why they matter, with some top tips to help you get started.

The problem with long sentences

The longer the sentence, the harder it is to read. That’s because longer sentences tend to be more complex than shorter sentences. They include more words. They contain more ideas. And they feature more detail.

And because they’re a lot harder for people to quickly and intuitively understand, they require more concentration, effort and time to confidently absorb everything in the way intended.

In turn, longer sentences can slow people down and create more work. In an age characterised by skimming, scanning and high expectations, this can set off alarm bells in your readers.

Information should come easy. It should be straightforward. And it should be painless to absorb. If it’s none of these things, well, what does that say about you? That your standards are low? That you haven’t done your homework? That you don’t even know you’re making obvious mistakes?

That’s what your audience is thinking. And even if they don’t know it, their actions speak louder than words. Low traffic, low rankings and low conversions, for example, can all be attributed to poor copy.

Why short sentences are better

In contrast, shorter sentences are easier to read. That’s because they are typically simple in scope – e.g. one sentence, one idea. You’re far less likely to introduce mistakes with them, too – after all, it’s a lot easier to mess up a long sentence than it is a short one.

They suit the online zeitgeist, too. You can skim over a short sentence and get the gist of what is being said better than you can a long sentence, which suits most people – your audience, your prospects – down to a t. After all,  nobody has the patience these days for rereading long sentences they didn’t quite grasp the first time round.

Short sentences also demonstrate clarity of thought, where there’s no waste, no waffle and no excess. Just the key components and nothing more. That doesn’t mean it comes easy – short sentences don’t just land on the page perfectly formed. A lot of editing is necessary, as well as a lot of thought.

But that’s important. It shows that you care, that you pay attention to detail and that you’re a professional through and through. All of this sends a signal to Google and your audience that you are someone worth rewarding and engaging with.

3 tips on how to write shorter sentences

Keep to a max range of 20–25 words

There’s a lot of consensus about the optimal length of a short sentence, with 20–25 words seen as the max. Sentences don’t need to be longer than that for the simple reason that they become harder to read.

If your sentences exceed that limit, consider whether it can either be split up into smaller sentences or made tighter by cutting out superfluous words. Sometimes, a long sentence will work, whether it’s 28, 34 or more words long. That’s okay. Just don’t make a habit of it. It can be made shorter.

Use more full stops

Commas, while representing a slight pause, have a sense of momentum about them that encourages people to keep reading. Full stops, on the other hand, offer readers a more definitive pause. They bring sentences to a resolute close.

Commas are also indicative of complex sentences – short and simple sentences have few if any commas. Go through your copy and see where you can either get rid of commas completely or replace them with full stops (a little bit of editing is likely).

Write in the active voice

The active voice encourages you to write shorter sentences because it requires fewer words. It’s more direct. The passive voice, in contrast, often requires more words to be used.

To write actively, make sure you’re talking to your readers (or to be more technical, ensure that the subject performs the action). For example, “our team will carry out a content audit” is active. A content audit will be carried out by our team” is passive. Not only does the active sentence feel more dynamic, it’s clearer, too. And, of course, it’s shorter.

If you’re looking to improve your UX, improve the effectiveness of your content and rise to the top of Google, give us a shout. We can help you do all that and more.

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