AB Thinks  →  13th August 2019

Want to create better content?

AB Thinks

How do you cut through the noise and make your content compelling? It’s not all about platforms or video, keeping things simple can make all the difference.

How long are the sentences you write? Look at your last bit of work. It might be a pitch, a story, a press release or a social media post. Count the words in a handful of those sentences.

The results may surprise you. Even on Twitter, which has a character limit, it’s possible to rack up a sentence length of 30-plus words – see lots of examples @RealDonaldTrump. If your word count peaked at 25 – the length of that last sentence – you’re getting there. It’s still a bit wordy though.

Studies show that when sentences have more than 25 words, they become difficult to understand. And, beyond 29, whoa! Don’t even bother. The reader will be lost in a mist of confusion from which they may never return…

But if your sentences were between 15 and 20 words, you’re doing well. You’re more likely to be read and understood. And that’s always a bonus if writing’s your craft.

It’s good to get short and pithy. A sentence of around 11 words is easy to read. Readers like simplicity; they like clarity. Long, complicated sentences slow them down and are tricky to understand. And, if they’re scan reading on mobiles, the word count is even tighter. Think 8-10 words for a sentence of app copy.

Keeping to the point is a great rule – whatever you’re writing or editing. Lane Greene, an editor at The Economist, takes complex issues and makes them accessible. He says: “The copy should look effortless and not look as if the journalist had to put a lot of work into it.”

One of his top editing tips is to make sentences shorter. He says: “You’ll make fewer mistakes and find the copy is more pleasurable to read.”

Whittling down sentences can be done in numerous ways. You could make a clause a separate sentence. Lose qualifiers and intensifiers such as ‘extremely’, ‘quite’ or ‘very’. Remove unnecessary words. Swap a long word for a shorter synonym. Ditch cliches and waffle. Think more about the content too. The clearer your thinking, the clearer your writing.

Then, when you’ve finished, read your piece again and take out a few more words.

Your reader will thank you.

Want to learn more? Join us for our storytelling workshops for IC professionals in October. Find out more about our full range of workshops here.