International students find academic writing difficult as it is. Add to it the debate regarding the best sentence length and they find themselves in a whirlwind of confusion.
There are many school of thoughts regarding the best sentence length for academic writing. Some prefer long sentences as they are easy to comprehend and can be used to impart the most information. Others feel that short sentences are easier to read and concise. Some believe that medium sentence length should be adhered to as it combines the best points of both short and long sentences as well as giving your writing uniformity. However, certain drawbacks are associated with each sentence length as well; long sentences are boring and may be difficult to read, short sentences seem childish and may not be able to convey the message fully, medium sentences aren’t so great either. In short, same length sentences generally create monotony.
Contemporary style guides generally recommend using a blend of sentence lengths to keep your writing fresh, comprehensive and clear. A mix of sentence lengths not only takes away monotony but also enables students to write freely by removing the stress of making all the sentences the same length. This way students can use longer sentences where they want to provide explanations, shorter ones when they want to get to the point and medium ones when they want to give an idea or solution. A document fashioned this way is also easy on the eyes.
Fix Your Sentence Lengths
If you are one of those students that are in the habit of sticking to single length sentences in their academic writing, you can use the following method to fix your sentence length.
- The first step is to analyze your current style of writing and sentence length. To do this, refer to an essay that you think best represents your normal writing style, count the number of words in the first 20 sentences and divide the grand total by 20 to get the average number of words per sentence.
- If the average length of your sentences is below 14 words, then you are using way too many short sentences, if it is more than 22, you are more prone to using longer sentences.
- Fix shorter sentences by combining two or three complimentary sentences together. You can use conjunctions to combine sentences that are referring to the same idea.
- Fix longer sentences by making them less wordy, avoiding passive verbs and eliminating repetition.
- Use longer sentences where explanations are required but use conjunctions to make the sentences easily understandable.
- Use shorter sentences where you want to make a quick point. Try not to use more than three short sentences in a single paragraph.
- When possible, use medium sentences to bridge gaps between longer and shorter sentences.
Remember, knowing when to use a longer sentence or a shorter one, and when to vary the pattern of a sentence is an art that requires both time and effort. In any case, practice makes perfect.