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Are Short Sentences or Long Sentences Better in Professional Writing?

I don’t know about you, but I’m a fan of long sentences.

I love adding in commas, hyphens, colons and semicolons to stretch them out in the hopes of making my points as clear as possible. That way, anyone with an overly skeptical brain like mine won’t be able to misread my arguments.

What can I say. I’m paranoid.

However, I’m not paranoid enough to avoid short sentences altogether. For one thing, while long sentences can clarify, they can also confuse.

And even if I was the best long-sentence writer ever, there’d still be a case to make for economical writing… starting with search engine optimization, or SEO.

If you’re trying to write a book, you can ignore the immediate restraints of obtaining online attention. But if your intent is to put your work right out on the internet, you’ve got to be more careful.

Much more careful, in fact.

Google. Bing. Yahoo Search. For the time being at least, they notice short sentences over long ones.

To be clear, “short” refers to a sentence of 20 words or less. So it’s not as if you put a period after every five words you write. Far from it.

At the same time, it’s amazing how quickly a serious thought can get when you’re using more easily digestible vocabulary – i.e., smaller words like as, is, how, than, etc.

On the plus side, Google, Bing, Yahoo Search and such don’t care about dictating all of your sentences’ length. Only the ones that contain keywords or key phrases.

For example, this article is about short sentences vs. long sentences. As such, “short sentences,” “long sentences” and “short sentences vs. long sentences” would all be valid key phrases. They’re what people might type into a search engine when trying to find the kind of information covered here.

Summed up, you can be long-winded and still get SEO attention.

You just can’t do it with your most important points.

That’s the SEO expert’s advice. But what about a writing expert’s perspective on the subject?

That's when it starts to get much more nuanced.

Some people are naturally good at employing short sentences. Some are naturally good at making long sentences look good. That’s something to consider before you throw yourself into one writing ring or the other.

But it also depends on your intent. Are you trying to be:

  • Definitive

  • Attention-grabbing

  • Pithy

  • Forceful?

In that case, a shorter sentence might work better.

Are you’re trying to be:

  • Vivid

  • Emotional

  • Descriptive

  • Poetic?

In that case, a longer sentence might work better.

Regardless, I can’t think of a single instance where you’d want to write an entire essay with only long sentences. The same can be said for short ones.

In the end, there shouldn’t even be a short sentences vs. long sentences debate. We writers should only ever ask how we can best get our message out effectively and engagingly – and then take it from there.

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