Does Sentence Length Matter?

In a word: YES.

Writing Tip: Sentence Length

Have you ever heard a speech or talk and the person speaking sounded slow, monotone and monotonous? The content might have been great but you couldn’t get past the sound of the voice that almost put you to sleep?

That is what it can feel like when a reader has to wade through a text that has nothing but long, drawn out sentences. Long sentences can get boring and confusing for a reader and will make him or her want to stop reading pretty quickly.

For example: I went to the store to pick up pencils, notebooks and sketch pads for my best friend who is writing a new story about two friends who get lost on an island and it is going to be an excellent story because my friend is a good writer and she knows how to integrate lots of soul into her characters, details to her scenery, and suspence in her plot lines.

Do you see how the above sentence can be a little too much to read? There are several sentences that run together into one big sentence making it feel like the sentence goes on forever.

On the other hand, a piece of writing that has nothing but short sentences can sound choppy and incohesive. That is the way children who are learning to write create sentences: short and abrupt.

For example: I went to the store. I picked up pencils. I picked up notebooks. I picked up sketch pads. My best friend is writing a story. The story is about two friends. They get lost on an island. It is going to be an excellent story. My friend is a good writer…

Do you see how choppy and broken the above sentences are? The sentences aren’t able to move forward with its point because it feels like stop, go. Stop, go. It is jarring to a reader’s sensibilities.

Thus, long sentences and short sentences have a place in a piece of writing. Good writers vary sentence length to help keep the text interesting and flowing naturally.

For example: I went to the store to pick up pencils, notebooks, and sketch pads for my best friend. She is writing a new story about two friends who get lost on an island. It is going to be an excellent story because my friend is a good writer. She knows how to integrate soul into her characters. She knows how to add details to her scenery and she knows how to bring suspence into her plot lines.

In the above paragraph, there are short, moderate and long(ish) sentences to keep it interesting. Varying sentence length may be a small thing but it makes a big difference in your writing!


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Misused Words: Forward vs Foreword

From what I’ve seen, the mistakes between forward and foreword is more of a problem of spelling more than understanding but it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves, right? {smile}

Misused Words: Forward vs Foreword

Simply put, forward means going toward, ahead, or advancing in some way.

For example: Going forward, we will have to work better as a team.

For example: I hope the Post Office will forward the mail to my new address.

Foreword is an introductory note or statement. This is often seen at the beginning of a book where someone writes something about the author and/or the book she is writing.

For example: I would love to have one of my favorite authors to write the foreword of my new soon-to-be-released book!

For example: Have you read the foreword to Jeff Goin’s latest book?

What is most tricky about the two words is the spelling because forward has no “e” and has an “a,” whereas foreword adds an “e” and has an “o.”  There is no real trick to remember the spellings for each, but for some reason, when I see or write the word “foreword” I picture a golfer calling out “fore!” LOL! It may be goofy but it helps me and maybe it will help you too. 🙂

Next Steps

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A Simple Tip for Fluid Writing

A client recently told me that she wants her writing to be more fluid. I want to share with you the advice I gave here: add more transitional phrases.

How to Use Transitional Phrases Properly

I learned this concept, and had a lot of practice using it, when I went back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree. All of my English literature professors drilled this into my head and points were taken off my papers (everyone’s papers) if they weren’t used properly – and with good reason. Transitional phrases really do make a difference in the readability of a text.

Without transitional phrases, paragraphs and sentences can sound choppy and rough. Transitional phrases bring the fluidity and smoothness needed for well-written copy. In word, transitional phrases do what you would expect: they transition on thought into another.

When are transitional phrases used?

Transitional phrases are used between paragraphs, between sentences and even within sentences. I will give an example of them between paragraphs later; in the meantime, here are a couple of examples of transitions between and within sentences:

1. See the sentence above where it says, “in the meantime?” That is an example of a transitional phrase within a sentence. 🙂

2. “I need to go to the office supply store. However, I must finish editing the grant proposal first.”

In this example, however is used to make the transition between the two sentences. Otherwise, they would be written like this: I need to go to the office supply store. I must finish editing the grant proposal first. Do you see how choppy the two sentences sound without the however?

List of transitional phrases has a page full of “transitional devices” that you can see here. Some common ones include:

therefore, however, moreover, in the meantime, then, furthermore, next, on the other hand, although, for instance, consequentially, in conclusion, and surprisingly

How to Interject Transitional Phrases into Your Writing

As a writer, you probably know that writing and editing are separate entities of the writing process. However, if you are anything like me, you probably intertwine those entities more often than you should. 😉 Still, I recommend that you wait until the editing part of the process before adding transitional phrases, unless they come naturally as you write. At least do it in the beginning, as you start to include the phrases into your writing, wait until the editing phase to include them.

So, during the editing phase, if you are editing the piece yourself, read the text out loud. If you read something that seems choppy or abrupt, add a transitional phrase and see if it make the text more smooth or easier to read.

In conclusion, adding this simple technique is a quick way to improve your writing. Very quickly, you will see a big difference in how clear and readable your documents will be just by adding these simple phrases.


Example of a paragraph transition from one of my former English classes:

Another place where the setting shows the effect Richard’s presence has on Matt is on page 98. In talking about Richard’s life, the narrator states, “He came home and did construction work for his father but refused his father’s offer to learn the business; his two older brothers had learned it, so that Strout and Sons trucks going about town, and signs on construction sites, now slashed wounds into Matt Fowler’s life.”  The words “slashed wounds” (98) give a powerful picture that shows how deeply Richard’s presence is affecting Matt.

During the course of the story, Matt has flashbacks that play an important part in showing Matt’s grief and need for closure. Matt remembers conversations that he had with Frank. He remembers the conversations he had with his wife about Frank. He remembers when Richard beat up Frank. He remembers being a “fearful father.” (100) These flashbacks are fodder for Matt’s grief, and so are the present images he has of Frank.

In the first paragraph, “Another place...” is a transition from the paragraph before it. And, “During the course of the story,” is an example of a transition from the paragraph before it; however, it is not a typical or one you will find on the Purdue list. However, it still works as a transition because it acts, as it says on Purdue, as “a bridge” from the previous paragraph to the next.


Next Steps

Need help with adding transitional phrases? I am available for short proofreading projects. Go here to learn more and contact me.


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