The Average Sentence Length

By Nirmaldasan

 

Plain English recommends short sentences. Robert Gunning faults marathon sentences in his book How To Take The Fog Out Of Writing. Though he admits to the possibility of long sentences being balanced and readable, he notes that only highly skilled writers such as Charles Dickens and Thomas Wolfe can write a marathon sentence with clarity. He adds: “But even these accomplished writers produced marathon sentences only occasionally. On the average, they wrote fewer than 20 words per sentence.”

 

Jyoti Sanyal’s Indlish has an interesting and informative chapter titled ‘Shrink or sink’ on the length of the sentence. He writes: “Based on several studies, press associations in the USA have laid down a readability table. Their survey shows readers find sentences of 8 words or less very easy to read; 11 words, easy; 14 words fairly easy; 17 words standard; 21 words fairly difficult; 25 words difficult and 29 words or more, very difficult.”

 

Martin Cutts, in his Oxford Guide To Plain English, offers the following guideline: “Over the whole document, make the average sentence length 15-20 words.” And what’s the reason? He explains: “More people fear snakes than full stops, so they recoil when a long sentence comes hissing across the page.”

 

Plain English also recommends short words. Even if the average sentence length of a document is 15-20 words, readability is not guaranteed. Polysyllabic words are likely to make the meaning of the document difficult to grasp. So we also need a guideline for average word length.

 

Words have two units of measure: syllables and letters. I examined the word list of Voice Of America and found that the average word length in syllables is 1.74 and that in letters is 5.67.

 

Now, we have been measuring sentences only in words. But sentences have three units of measure: words, syllables and characters. And so we may take the following as the new guideline: “Over the whole document, make the average sentence length 15-20 words, 25-33 syllables and 75-100 characters.”

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14 Responses to “The Average Sentence Length”

  1. Sentence length « newstraining Says:

    […] A post on the Readability Monitor blog takes into account words, syllables and even characters when framing ab ideal range for a readable sentence: Sentences have three units of measure: words, syllables and characters. And so we may take the following as the new guideline: “Over the whole document, make the average sentence length 15-20 words, 25-33 syllables and 75-100 characters.” […]

  2. 35 and Counting « Writing in English at FLM Says:

    […] writers to keep sentences short. The optimum sentence length is roughly between 15 and 25 words, depending on whom you ask. FLM’s limit is 35 words because the average sentence length is a rough measurement, generally […]

  3. Make it Short! | 14 Words Only Says:

    […] this blog will be book and movie reviews in 14 words or less. Why 14? Well, according to here and here, the average English sentence is 14 words and 14 word sentences are “fairly easy” to […]

  4. How to Lose a Reader in Seventeen Lazy Words | B Y Rogers Says:

    […] have to, I didn't want to. This got me thinking. What makes a good, if not great, first sentence? How long should it be? What should it reveal? I remember being taught that the first sentence is all important. So I […]

  5. josephrocca Says:

    Thanks a heap for your research, Nirmaldasan. I recently finished a word counting tool that uses some of your info :)

    You can check it out at http://www.countwordsworth.com, if you like.

  6. Readability: Who Are You Writing For? | HTML CSS3 Says:

    […] a blog about writing, Strainindex Nirmaldasan quotes the Oxford Guide to Plain English identifying that on average now, sentence […]

  7. What is a reasonable password length? | Christopher Keslar Says:

    […] The Average Sentence Length, July 2008 […]

  8. Me, in a Setnence | Eric Villanueva Says:

    […] in a sentence. One sentence. That’s 15 to 20 words on average, according to “Readability Monitor,” a blog “keeping track of readable language.” Boiling yourself down to 25 to 33 […]

  9. mattjlazarus Says:

    Reblogged this on thestorycoach.net and commented:
    Worth considering.

  10. Query #4 September 2014 | write lara write Says:

    […] checked your word lengths for the paragraph: 28, 30, 28, 45, 41, 29, 43—average 35. This is a great article on word lengths. Try to keep your sentences in the 10-20 range. Then you can throw in a couple longer and a couple […]

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