If you want to be understood, use short sentences.

Don’t make life unnecessarily difficult. Give your reader a chance.

Long, convoluted sentences harm you – whatever your industry or audience.

According to the American Press Institute, readers understand 90 per cent of your copy if your average sentence length is 14 words.

But if you climb to 43 words, they understand less than 10 per cent.

Maybe that’s why copywriting legend Drayton Bird says sentences of eight words are the easiest to understand.

Or why the UK government’s website urges writers to break up sentences longer than 25 words.

“But my audience is educated…”

Are you talking to professionals and academic high achievers? You should still use short sentences.

Don’t be fooled by old fashioned (and misplaced) views about formality and linguistic expectations.

In fact, research shows a statistically significant correlation between education level and a preference for plain English.

“As education increased, so did the preference for plain language… Even though people with advanced degrees might understand traditional legal style, that’s not what they prefer. They know what’s clear; they know what’s understandable. They know better.”

Don’t believe us? Which of these paragraphs do you prefer?

  • The vice-chancellor backed up his point by highlighting some recent research, which was released to wide acclaim in 2016 by another of the UK’s leading universities, showing that the number of professors who cannot write in plain English has fallen from 95 per cent to 80 per cent in just 20 years. (52 words, one sentence)
  • The vice-chancellor supported his point by citing research from another university. It showed 80 per cent of professors cannot write in plain English, compared to 95 per cent in 1996. (30 words, two sentences)

So take time to look for words you can cut. Then find ways to split long sentences into two (or three) shorter ones. Your reader will thank you.

PS: The average sentence length in this post is 12 words. How much of it did you understand?