“Keep your paragraphs short. Writing is visual—it catches the eye before it has a chance to catch the brain.” – William Zinsser, On Writing Well
This language expert gives excellent advice, but how does it translate to what you’re working on? I suggest this:
For nonfiction writing (including your emails), limit the length of your sentences to 21 words.
Why 21 Words?
With more than 21 words, you risk readers backtracking to the beginning of the sentence to retain or refresh the meaning. Few will do this! They want to understand it quickly on the first read, not the second or third. Also keep your paragraphs short as Zinsser suggests. Because people mostly scan rather than read each word on-screen, they can do so faster when paragraphs are short. Don’t set up a tedious experience for your readers.
Writing Well with Hemingway App
An editing app called Hemingway (www.hemingwayapp.com) helps accomplish this. It color-codes sentences based on ease of reading and indicates how to clarify them. When you use it as a learning tool, you’ll improve your writing just by following the suggestions.
Even if you don’t use this tool, pay attention. In my first draft of this article, I exceeded 21 words on four sentences. After doing a word count, I reworked them in ways that both Hemingway and Zinsser would approve.
Make that a habit for you, too!
What “Writing Well” tips do you have to share?