Anne-Marie Chisnall | April 16, 2020
Recently a colleague shared a 258-word sentence from a legal contract he had to read. That’s at least 230 words over the recommended maximum length!
And especially in legal or official writing, readers are likely to struggle with any sentence even a tenth of that length.
Our message channel got very busy as people expressed their alarm at the word count. But that was just the start. People started pointing out how complex they found the sentence structure and language. The sentence was part of a contract, and contained a lot of information. The sentence:
We understand how long sentences happen. Writers often have a lot to cover, and may think that packing lots of information into a sentence is more efficient. Or, as they’re writing, they think of other relevant things to include. Your first drafts probably have a few sentences that are too long, which is why applying plain language principles is so important in the editing phase.
Some of you will read the dot points above and think the description sounds typical of writing in a contractual document. Contract or not, court cases have been lost over ambiguous language. And plenty of evidence exists to show that clear writing makes excellent business sense for all organisations.
The writer of that 258-word sentence was probably thinking less about their readers, and more about what they wanted to get across. But by making their text difficult, they risked their readers giving up and missing critical information.
We admit this example is an extreme case! But unfortunately it’s typical of the many examples of unclear writing we see every day in our training and consulting work.
Now more than ever, many of us are working from home as well as in the office. On our home office days, it’s not as easy to pop your head over the cubicle and ask for help with a tricky writing assignment. Write Online can offer a helping hand. Write Online is a content library with microlearning videos on all sorts of common business writing topics.
Keeping to a readable sentence length is just one technique we advocate. You’ll discover many others that are equally useful, and each technique is another tool in your writing toolbox. Each time you apply a new technique, you’ll get closer to connecting quickly with your readers and achieving your objectives for writing.
Your Write Online subscription offers you powerful writing tools to help you write compelling, well-structured documents. You’ll feel equipped to communicate with clarity and have influence in your organisation.
The Write Online content library is useful for everyone who writes at work. Right now, you’ll value these resources if you are:
You can view each video at your own pace. You’ll discover techniques to help you plan, structure, write, edit, and polish any document you write — from emails and business cases through to long reports and presentations. And many of the videos have short quizzes and useful downloads like tip sheets, checklists, and templates.
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