Online Writing Lab

Sentence Length

Many writers struggle to write sentences of appropriate length.  Some writers write short sentences, which can make an essay seem choppy.  Other writers tend to write long sentences, which can make the writing seem long-winded or wordy, even if it isn’t.  Good writing contains sentences of a variety of lengths: some short, some long, some medium.  This page provides some suggestions for intentionally changing sentence length. 

Short sentences: 

The easiest way to make sentences longer is by using conjunctions, the most common of which are coordinating conjunctions. (More on coordinating conjunctions) Conjunctions can be used to connect independent clauses, dependent clauses, and/or other phrases together.  Using them correctly is an easy way to combine two or three shorter sentences into one longer one.  Let’s look at the following example:

Too many short sentences can hurt an essay.  It can make the writing seem choppy. The writing may seem like it is below college level.  Readers may lose interest.  They may not want to continue reading.  

Notice how the writing in this example seems choppy and doesn’t flow well.  Now, look at how this writing can be improved by joining some of these sentences together with coordinating conjunctions:

Too many short sentences can hurt an essay, for it can make the writing seem choppy and seem like it is below college level.  Because of this, readers may lose interest and may not want to continue reading.

Notice how the second example is clearly better even though none of the information was changed.  While it is just a short example, it demonstrates how even a few short sentences can be improved by being lengthened with coordinating conjunctions. 

Another way to connect short sentences together is through the use of subordinating conjunctions. (More on subordinating conjunctions)

Review the following example:

Example: My grades continue to suffer.  I am not studying as much as I should. I hope to pass.  I am not sure I will.

Example revised through subordination: My grades continue to suffer because I am not studying as much as I should.  Even though I hope to pass, I am not sure that I will. 

Notice how subordinating conjunctions not only connect sentences together to improve length but also show how ideas are connected. 

The following is a list of common subordinating conjunctions that can be used: after, although, as, as if, as though, because, before, even if, even though, if, if only, now that, once, rather than, since, than, that, though, unless, until, when, where, whereas, wherever, whereas, whether, which, while.

Long Sentences

The easiest way to fix a passage containing too many long sentences is to break some of the sentences up to create multiple sentences.  Let’s look at the following example. 

Long sentences are also problematic in writing because, even if they are punctuated properly, they can be hard to read since readers often want a pause, and writers need to be aware of this and consider the effect that any writing has on the reader.  Writing that contains long sentences can seem wordy, even if this isn’t the case, for the information in long sentences, like in short ones, can be hard to understand and connect. 

Technically, the passage above is grammatically correct, but because the sentences are long, it does not flow well and makes for poor writing.  Look at how this writing can be improved by breaking up the sentences:

Long sentences are also problematic in writing.  This is true even if they are punctuated properly since they can be hard to understand for readers, who often want a pause while reading.  Writers need to be aware of this and consider the effect that any writing has on the reader.  Furthermore, writing that contains long sentences can seem wordy, even if this isn’t the case.  This happens because the information in long sentences, like in short ones, can be hard to understand and connect.

Keep sentence length in mind while writing your essay and try to incorporate variety.  If your writing contains areas where there are several short sentences, look to combine some of them.  If some of the sentences are too long, look to shorten them by separating the independent clauses.  Doing this will make any writing better and easier to read.