The longer a sentence the harder it is to understand.
Concise, evocative writing is the bedrock of good writing and design.
It’s easy—when crafting our next masterpiece—to forget the reader and instead focus on the words. All your hard work is wasted, if the reader can't understand what you've written.
Writing guru Ann Sylie presents these findings on sentence length:
- When the average sentence length is 8 words, readers understand 100% of the text.
- When the average sentence length is 14 words, readers understand more than 90% of the text.
- When the average sentence length is 43 words, comprehension drops to less than 10%.
- 11-word sentences are easy to understand.
- 21-word sentences are fairly difficult to understand.
- 25-word sentences are difficult to understand.
- 29-word (and longer) sentences are very difficult to understand.
The UK government eschews long sentences on the official government website. They've devoted an entire article to on Inside Gov.uk explaining why. It is well worth a read.
Long sentences decrease understanding. As a writer and designer it is critical you help the reader understand what you have written. Therefore:
- Divide longer sentences into multiple shorter sentences.
- Write short sentences, using plain English.
Avoid Unending Sentences of Doom.