How long should sentences be?
How long should sentences be? Take a tip from the pros at The New York Times, and keep sentences short.
We analyzed 99 stories in a recent edition of the Times. (We skipped the sports pages.) On this day, Times sentences:
- Ranged from an average of 15 word (“Seeing the World Through Its Barbecue Joints“) to an average of 41 words (“Shaping a Shepherd of Catholics, From Argentine Slums to the Vatican“).
- Averaged 23 words.
- Weighed in at a median of 24 words.
We recommend that you aim for an average of 14 words per sentence, based on American Press Institute research.
So how long should sentences be?
1. Aim for an average of 14-word sentences.
So aim for an average sentence length of 14 words, like these from the Times:
Some companies that do approve business-class travel do so only in one direction, however.
Its broadband package is also the home to the sports broadcaster ESPN in Britain.
They added that the plaintiffs’ side lacked actual people to say they were harmed.
2. Make some sentences even shorter.
Build drama, create rhythm and make points powerfully by sprinkling in some super-short sentences like these, from the Times, which range from 5 to 1 word:
Mr. Abadi swung into action.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
He was 84.
3. Break up long sentences.
Break up long sentences like these, from the Times, which weigh in at 66 to 81 words:
A liberal Democrat, Mr. Garth generally worked for liberal or moderate candidates: He cut his political teeth on Adlai E. Stevenson’s short-lived 1960 presidential race; he went on to represent Governors Carey of New York, Ella T. Grasso of Connecticut, Brendan T. Byrne of New Jersey and John J. Gilligan of Ohio; as well as Mayors Koch of New York and Tom Bradley of Los Angeles.
In addition to Belvedere’s inclusion in “Spectre” — the 24th film in the Bond series, dating to 1962 — Mr. Gibb outlined extensive plans for the partnership that include worldwide advertising and public relations campaigns; two types of limited-edition bottles, both with 007 themes; promotions and events in locales like nightclubs, bars and stores; a presence in social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; and a drink named the Belvedere Spectre martini.
From October 2013 to last June, the nursing home received poor ratings in a number of care benchmarks: 74 percent of patients had depressive symptoms, compared with 11.7 percent statewide and 6.2 percent nationally; 16 percent of residents lost too much weight over the course of their stay, almost three times the state average and more than twice the national average; and 4.8 percent had catheters inserted into their bladders and left there, compared with a state average of 2.6 percent.
Note that these three sentences are actually lists. Break up sentences like these by bulleting any series of three or more items.
Take a tip from the Times.
Hmmmm … Those long sentences makes me wonder what Philip B. Corbett, deputy news editor for the Times, who’s in charge of revising the newsroom’s style manual, would have to say about this.
“But news is read in a hurry, and we should strive for clear, sharp prose that aids rapid comprehension. Long, complex sentences slow readers down and can lead our syntax astray.”
What’s your average sentence length? What sentence length do you aim for?