English wRIting Consultant (ERIC)
By Renato Miyagusuku
July 4, 2017
While long sentences are not inherently a bad thing. They can easily become confusing, if not properly written.
A common problem is trying to “summarize” many ideas in a single sentence. For example, in
“[…] they need some vacant rooms beforehand so that the people in the destruction area can move to, so UR stop asking for new people coming some years before the start of area-rebuilding, and that is said to be one great reason why the ageing rate of this area is especially so high.”
Three ideas are presented. (1) UR needed vacant rooms to relocate people, (2) UR stopped asking for new tenants, and (3) High ageing rate of the area can be attributed to this.
Of course, all three sentences are highly related. However, conveying all three of them in a single sentence resulted in a 52-word sentence. This is too long.
The main problem with such long sentences is that they are hard to follow. By simply separating the ideas in smaller sentences, readability can be greatly improved.
“ […] they need to vacate some rooms beforehand, in order to relocate the people from the destruction areas. To support this, UR stopped asking for new incoming residents several years before the start of the area rebuilding. This is said to be one of the reason why the ageing rate of this area is especially high.”
Another common problem is the inclusion of extremely long non-restrictive clauses. Non-restrictive clauses add extra or nonessential information to sentences and are often placed between commas. The following, is an example of a sentence with a very long non-restrictive clause,
In this research, we confined the research object to predicate-argument structures, which has adnominal case particles “-ga” (means subjective case), “-wo” (means accusative case), and “-ni” (means objective case) in the object sentence, because these three factors construct the framework of a sentence.
Adding a non-restrictive clause is by no means a bad thing, and we do not intend to discourage its use. However, placing long clauses, as the one in the example, dilutes the impact of the main sentence.
In this case, we recommend splitting the sentence in two.
In this research, we confined the research object to predicate-argument structures in the object sentence, as these factors construct the framework of a sentence. For the Japanese language, these structures are the adnominal case particles “-ga” (means subjective case), “-wo” (means accusative case), and “-ni” (means objective case).
So … when is a sentence too long?
It is difficult to come up with an exact maximum number of words per sentence. It depends on your writing style, the topic you are addressing, and many other factors. In our opinion, sentences should have at most 20 to 30 words – if you are not confident in your grammar skills maybe 15 to 20 should be your limit.
Another good rule of thumb is to convey at most two ideas in a single sentence. Writing about three or more ideas in a single sentence will most of the time yield too long sentences, as in the first example.
Avoiding long non-restrictive clauses is also a good idea.
If in doubt, simply separate your sentence into two or more smaller ones. It is better to have simple, yet effective sentences (that everyone will understand). Than a complicated one, that only few can.
Remember that your goal when writing papers is for your readers to understand what you wrote.