4. Structuring your sentences

Limit the amount of information in a sentence

If you are starting a new idea, do not just tack it on to your current sentence. Start a new sentence.

Keep most of your sentences relatively short

A good general rule is to keep sentences between 15 and 25 words long. This is not an absolute rule, though. It is good to have a variety of sentence lengths — just make sure your longer sentences are well structured, with clear word choice.

Be aware: Just because you are keeping your sentences relatively short does not mean you should have fewer of them. You may actually need to add more information (more sentences) in order to clarify your meaning. It is better to have more sentences that are clear than one long sentence that is confusing.

Keep your sentences active

The most basic parts of a sentence in English are:

Subject — the person or thing doing the action

Verb — the action

Active sentences are easiest for a reader to understand. An active sentence puts the subject first, followed closely by the verb:

active

The committee reviews all proposals.

Who is doing the action? The committee. Therefore, committee is the subject. What is the action? Reviewing the proposals. Therefore, reviews is the verb. The word order in the sentence is subject, then verb.

If we reverse the order of the subject and verb, it makes the sentence passive.

passive

All proposals are reviewed by the committee.

In the passive sentence, the reader has to wait till the end of the sentence to find out the subject (who did the action). If there are too many words between the subject and the verb, it can be confusing for the reader.

Sometimes if the subject is not important, or you do not know the subject, it makes sense to use passive voice. If you do use the passive voice, make sure you are using it for a specific effect.

Review the following video for more information on http://api.ca.kaltura.com/tiny/b05u1 [new tab].

 

Active versus passive voice video screenshot
Figure 4. Active versus passive voice

 

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