Let’s call out the purple elephant in the room with you.

Have courage, go on.


You know – the one that’s taking up all that room, over there, on your page.

It’s called long sentences.

It happens.

We all have occasion to feed the elephant at times.

For instance… when you can’t stop saying something, or don’t know what to say, or have too much to say, or can’t break up your thought-stream, or you start babbling, or you’re not quite sure where to put the punctuation, so none seems easier…

But feeding the elephant is definitely not good for achieving clear, concise, comprehensible writing.

So let me give you the low fat, no guilt minimalist guide to short sentences: less than twenty words are ideal.

More than twenty words dramatically drops readability and the number of readers reached.

Writing sentences in varied lengths adds rhythm, flow and effect to your work. It also gives your reader’s brains time to rest between thoughts.

But on average, sentences should be relatively short.

Especially in this, the Age of Screen-readers.

If you’re not convinced, look at this chart on sentence length and reader comprehension.


Sentence Average Length Readability Rating Readers Reached
Up to 8 words Very easy 90%
11 words Fairly easy 86%
17 words Standard 75%
21 words Fairly difficult 40%
25 words Difficult 24%
29 words and up Very difficult 4.5%


Are you now rethinking that last piece you wrote?

The one that included a number of wonderfully lyrical sentences that ran into numbers beyond the magic twenty?

Twenty word sentences are ideal for comprehension and ease of reading.

That doesn’t mean writing to a child’s level – it means clarifying your thoughts first, and then lining up the words one after the other in a clear manner.

For no more than twenty words.

After that, you’ll have lost your reader.


 Note: I couldn’t find  an original source for the chart on readability that I had squirrelled away for years. If anyone knows an original source…can you drop me a line so I can attribute it correctly? Thanks.


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