‘The 25-word rule isn’t bad as long as you don’t follow it’
How short should sentences be? Ask the experts:
A “53-word sentence feels like my junk drawer — too much information crammed into too small a space.”
— Publication coach Daphne Gray-Grant
“For readable writing that doesn’t tax your readers, vary your sentence length, seek an average in the low 20s, and cut any sentence of 45 words or more.”
— Wayne Schiess, senior lecturer at The David J. Beck Center for Legal Research, Writing, and Appellate Advocacy
“The 25-word rule isn’t bad as long as you don’t follow it. Don’t count words and stick religiously to the 25-word limit. A long row of sentences all 25 words long can be as dull as a collection of short sentences can be, unless you’re writing for 8-year-olds.”
— Authors of Writing Tips for Word Lovers write:
“The ability to write clear, crisp sentences that never go beyond twenty words is a considerable achievement.”
— Joseph M. Williams, the author of Style: Toward Clarity and Grace
“Writers who demand attention seldom average more than 17 words a sentence.”
— Jack Hart, author of A Writer’s Coach
“Maximum sentence length: seventeen words. Minimum: one. No semicolons. Semicolons indicate relationships that only idiots need defined by punctuation. Besides, they are ugly. Make sure each sentence is at least four words longer or shorter than the one before it.”
— Poet Richard Hugo
“There are no absolute rules of good writing — generalizations are instantly riddled with exceptions — but the principle of the 16-word average sentence comes closest. No other single step you can take will show such quick results in clarity and vigor.”
— Jack Cappon, longtime Associated Press editor
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony.”
— Gary Provost, author of 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing
“Imagine a clock that starts ticking after the 10th word. With each additional word, the ticking gets louder. After the 20th word, the ticking is VERY loud. After the 40th, it’s stadium-crowd loud. After 45, deafening.”
— Tom Silvestri, president of Media General Community Newspapers
When does your sentence-length alarm go off?
To make them easy to read and understand, keep sentences shorter than 21 words, suggests American Press Institute research.
What’s your average sentence length? What sentence length do you aim for?