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The Short Sentence: Throw in Few to Improve Readability

An online devotional for writers

A Word From The Word

Some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. (1 Corinthians 12:22, NLT

A Word For Writers

The Short Sentence with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips #readability #editing

“Keep sentences short.” 

That is the first of ten clear writing principles recorded by American businessman Robert Gunning, the creator of the readability Gunning Fog Index.   Fog being lack of clarity, of course. 

Gunning believed that writers “need a set of principles that strike at the root of Fog …to serve as a useful guide to clear thinking, and thereby to clear writing.”

Once a sentence is 21 words or more, readers find it hard to understand. But research shows when the average sentence length is fewer than eight words long, readers understand 100% of it

The short sentence is a fixture in the Bible, starting with the legendary short-of-shorts, “Jesus wept” (John 11:5, NLT).

But in scripture, short sentences are interspersed with medium-length sentences and even run-ons. For instance, the four-word directive, “You must not steal” (Exodus 20:15, NLT) is followed by instructions not to lie (8 words) and the command against coveting (30 words). 

The Bible gives us a helpful model for readability:  vary sentence length. And use some short sentences to avoid fog. 

A Wise Word

Use short sentences to improve readability.

A Word To Pray

Loving Father,

Thank you for the variety you’ve placed in our world. Let me consider ways to vary the mechanics of my writing to communicate clearly.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.


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