We talk a lot in Business Writing That Counts! about words, grammar and punctuation. Today, I want to talk about the sum of those parts – the individual sentence. And it's tough to have good paragraphs, pages or reports without good sentences throughout!
So, what makes a sentence work for your business writing?
First, there is more to writing good sentences than mastery of grammar and punctuation, although without those working for you, clarity and professionalism fly out the window.
Second, consider sentence length. I often see suggestions of average word count and limit, such as 10 to 12 words on average and an absolute maximum of about 32 words. To me, the optimal sentence length is the one that makes sense for the topic, audience and thoughts being conveyed. For example, technical or instructional writers take advantage of short sentences to help readers learn a little at a time and avoid confusion. If you're installing a faucet, you need several separate sentences that break down the steps involved instead of longer ones that force you to remember your next step.
You should probably shorten sentences that contain complex concepts or lists.
Further, any time a reader reaches the end of the sentence with no idea how it began, your sentence is too long and maybe structured poorly. And one of the best tips for sentence length is variation. Read your sentences out loud and see if length of various sentences corresponds to emphasis and readability. If you try to make every sentence the same length, your business prose will read like a metronome and you'll lose readers. Read your writing aloud to hear the variation — or redundancy — in sentence length.
A single theme
Good sentences have only one thought, idea or theme. When it's time to move on to the next thought, it's time for a new sentence. Here's an example: "I took the dog for a walk yesterday and I love ice cream." This sentence leaves more questions than clarification. Whether you're rushing or just inexperienced writing for business, take time to break your sentences into main thoughts and ideas. It doesn't mean you have to get across a key point in one sentence only, but you can introduce the idea and then use subsequent sentences to outline your point.
Here are a few more tips for improving sentences in your business writing:
Paint a picture for readers. Use active verbs that invoke an image in the reader's mind instead of explaining how they should see something.
Use facts where appropriate. Facts support your business writing, whether it's sales/persuasive or standard reports. Facts also help paint the picture for readers. As long as you don't rely on facts and statistics too heavily, both can improve your sentences.
Be concise, but clear. It's never a good idea to add fluff and unnecessary adjectives or phrases to your writing. But don’t fret so much over sentence length that you cut words and thoughts critical to reader understanding. Clarity reigns over brevity.
Want to learn more about writing good sentences that work for you and your business? Contact Business Writing That Counts! (http://www.businesswritingthatcounts.com/) to learn how we can help. Just give us a call: 425-485-3221.