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7   Writing Style

Sentence Length and Structure

Keep your sentences short. Longer sentences demand greater concentration from the reader. If your sentence is longer than 25 or 30 words, have a second look at it. While we were often encouraged in school to write more complex and usually longer sentences to demonstrate our growing mastery of syntax, in business and technical writing, shorter is better. (The last sentence is 30 words—any longer would start to make reading difficult.)

The best way to keep sentences short is by limiting them to expressing one idea. If you have two ideas, use two sentences. An idea is typically expressed using a subject, verb, and object. If you find your sentence begins with one subject-verb-object, and finishes with another subject-verb-object, you should probably divide it into two sentences.

Another good rule is to stick to the subject-verb-object order. You'll use fewer words, avoid passive verbs, and your sentences will be easier to understand.

Consultants appreciate respect. (subject-verb-object)
Respect is appreciated by consultants. (object-verb-subject)

Notice that the second sample sentence is two words longer than the first. Sentences in subject-verb-object order are invariably shorter—they simply require fewer words to write.

The second sentence is also passive, because it uses “is appreciated,” the weak form of the verb “to appreciate,” instead of the stronger “appreciate.” See more on active verbs.