Better Business Writing: Short & Sweet
You have something to say. You want to get it into somebody else’s brain. You write it down. You deliver it. Mission accomplished? Not so fast—especially if the text looks as thick, heavy, and impenetrable as a brick wall.
Here’s an editor’s trick: You can entice readers to take a look at your ideas, and even linger a while, if you give them certain visual cues right off the bat. Every “good read,” or page-turner, if you like, uses lots of periods—which signals one thought per sentence.
At first, go ahead and type out whatever gets your thoughts going. But then, head back and break every long sentence you find into two or even three of the shortest you can manage. As a rule of thumb, a mid-size sentence has about 30 or 40 words. Shorter is better. Longer should be a red flag.
As a bonus, the sentences that simply must be mid-size or longer to make your point, mixed in with all the shorties you can manage, will break up the type and make it easier on the eyes. That’s reader friendly. Plus, as your readers read, the rhythm of your words in their heads will be varied, not a drone. That’s good, too—it keeps things moving.
So, the next time you sit down to write, ask yourself: Why write the thing, anyway, if no one wants to read my dense, long-winded wastelands of prose? In business, the answer is probably that you have to write it. You’re paid to write it. Well, take pity on your readers. Make the transfer from your brain to theirs as painless as possible. Aim for short sentences.
Annette Burden, contributing editor for Elite Meetings, counts more years than she cares to mention editing writers for print and digital.