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Bill Bennett


Write with rhythm

Short sentences are usually best. But not always and not all the time.

Newspapers teach journalists to write a single thought in a sentence. That way the meaning is clearer.

The Economist Style Guide makes a joke of this in its guide to punctuation:

Full stops. Use plenty. They keep sentences short. This helps the reader.

Much as I love short sentences, too many in a row makes writing boring and hard to read. They can also be uneconomical.

As Harold Evans points out in Newsman’s English:

Often it is wasteful to introduce a subject and predicate for each idea. The subordinate clause in a complex sentence can state relations more precisely and more economically than can a string of simple sentences or compound sentences joined by and, but, so, etc.

There’s another reason to use complex sentences in your writing. They add rhythm.

Use too many short sentences and your copy will have a staccato flow annoying and distracting readers. Use too many long sentences and your writing will lack pace. You may lull your readers to sleep.

Most writing is not poetry. Yet the best poets master rhythm. It makes words easier to listen to, easier to read.

A similar logic applies to paragraphs. View them as bundles of closely related thoughts.

There’s no hard and fast rule about the best length of paragraphs. It’s a good idea to minimise the number of one sentence paragraphs you write. As with sentences, vary the pace. Too many consecutive short paragraphs are annoying. Too many long ones are hard work for the reader. Both approaches are difficult to read.

Above all else use paragraphs to make your writing easier to read.



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