Readable Writing Rule #5: Combine For Clarity

Can sentences be too short?


Too-tiny sentences can be annoying because they spread a modest amount of information across several sentences. Making your sentences too small forces you to add unnecessary words and to chop up ideas and descriptions.

For example: “See Dick. See Dick run. Dick is running to the Board Room. Dick is the CEO. The Board wants to fire Dick. The company is not doing well.” These sentences are simple and clear, but create a choppy paragraph.

Combine short sentences to smooth the flow. If one short sentence explains or modifies another diminutive one, the two can probably be combined. For example:

  • “The house has a beautiful garden,” is better than, “The house has a garden. The garden is beautiful.”
  • “The new gasoline resulted in higher prices and more pollution,” is better than, “The new gasoline has problems. The problems include higher prices and more pollution.”
  • “Monocytes engulf and kill antigens,” is better than, “Monocytes engulf antigens. Once they’ve engulfed the antigens, they kill them.” (The first five words of the second sentence only repeat the last two words of the first.)
  • Instead of, “He has pains in the mid-back. They are not there all the time, but only occur occasionally,” try the shorter and clearer, “He has occasional pains in the mid-back.”
  • Instead of, “The patient is alert. The patient is well-oriented to time, is aware of place, situation and person,” try the shorter and clearer, “The patient is alert and well-oriented to time, place, situation and person.”

Apply the same principle to phrases within a sentence.

  • Instead of, “He had a watch on his right wrist; it is a large watch,” try “He had a large watch on his right wrist.”
  • Instead of, “The horse is a female, she is three years old,” try “The horse is a three-year old female.”
  • Instead of, “Various types of scientists contributed to the vaccine. The types ranged from biologists to zoologists,” try “Various types of scientists, ranging from biologists to zoologists, contributed to the vaccine.”

Try it yourself. Combine the following sentences for clarity, eliminate extra words and make the sentences flow smoothly:

  1. The patient is a female. She is 23-years old.
  2. A scar runs from the elbow directly down to the wrist, it is well-healed.
  3. He is not working. He would like to be working.
  4. The worker suffered an injury on May 5, 1992, when he broke his left small toe.
  5. Office expenses increase every year. Each year’s increase is tremendous.
  6. Police came. They took her to the jail in Woodland Hills.

Suggested answers:

  1. The patient is a 23 year-old female.
  2. A well-healed scar runs from the elbow directly down to the wrist.
  3. He is not working, but would like to be.
  4. The worker broke his left small toe on May 5, 1992.
  5. Office expenses increase tremendously every year.
  6. Police took her to the Woodland Hills jail.

For more ways to make your writing sparkle, see “Readable Writing Review.”

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