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30 October 2011

Writing: All About Long Sentences

By Rob San Miguel

Long sentences do not mean well-written sentences.  A long sentence is difficult to read and it may confuse your readers; even worse, the intended meaning of the sentence might be lost. However, if you are writing for news publication and your editor only allocated certain square centimeters for your article, then perhaps you have no choice but to fit all your ideas in a small rectangular space in your magazine. Yes, cram those important words in two to three very long sentences. Let your creativity work.

QUESTION 1: IS MY SENTENCE TOO LONG?  
On regular circumstances, the best way to test if your sentence is appropriately long is to count the number of words.  Thirty words in one sentence is my limit but do not strictly follow this. Focus on clarity of meaning than the exact number of words.


This sentence has 63 words.

An essay is a short piece of writing that is often written from an author's personal point of view and the definition of an essay is unclear, overlapping with those of an article and a short story and essays can consist of a number of elements, including: literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. (1)

Divide this long sentence. Group related ideas together.

An essay is a short piece of writing that is often written from an author's personal point of view. (20 words)
The definition of an essay is unclear, overlapping with those of an article and a short story. (18 words)
Essays can consist of a number of elements, including: literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. (26 words)

Instead of one long sentence, you made three.  All of which are easy to read, easy to understand and the power of each sentence is more apparent.

QUESTION 2:  ARE ALL THE WORDS IN LONG SENTENCE NECESSARY? 
Always check if you really need the words in your sentence.  You may be using many words that make your sentence more confusing.   The words that you use should help make the meaning clear.  Avoid redundancy.

The best way to test if the words in your sentence are necessary is to remove some words.  If you remove a word but the meaning of the sentence remains basically the same, then the deleted word is unnecessary. Try also to replace a long phrase with a single word if you can.

This sentence has 36 words. Are all the words necessary?
The professor who is famous for being strict really wanted to punish his very disobedient and naughty students in his class because they do not follow his instructions and they are often noisy during class discussion. 

Now find ways to replace the long phrases with short descriptions and remove some redundant words

Who is famous for being strict? à Strict professor
They do not follow his instructions. à Disobedient
They are often noisy during class discussion. à Noisy, unruly
Disobedient and naughty have almost the same meaning

Start deleting or replacing words: The professor who is famous for being strict really wanted to punish his very disobedient and naughty students in his class because they do not follow his instructions and they are often noisy during class discussion

REVISED: The strict professor really wanted to punish his very disobedient and unruly student. in his class.
[The sentence has 16 words, all of them necessary.  You may also remove “in his class” because if they are his students then they are in his class.]

----------------------
NOTE: 
(1) This is taken from Wikipedia and I rearranged the sentences for the purpose of this lesson.
(Please take note that academic writing is different from regular composition. Wikipedia is academic in nature.)



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