Proofreading, Editing, Critique
Getting help with your book from a professional editor is always recommended but often just too expensive. We have partnered with a professional editor with 30 years of experience to provide quality writing services at affordable prices.Visit our Writing Services Page
Hundreds of Helpful Articles
We have created hundreds of articles on topics all authors face in today’s literary landscape. Get help and advice on Writing, Marketing, Publishing, Social Networking, and more. Each article has a Comments section so you can read advice from other authors and leave your own.
Keep it Short and Simple
The acronym KISS is well known. There are several possible meanings for the acronym, but the one that best applies to writers is “Keep It Short and Simple.”
Here’s an example. Which of these sentences would you rather read?
It is fruitless to try to indoctrinate a superannuated canine with innovative maneuvers.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Everyone understands and remembers the second sentence, not so much for the first.
Writers should use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs. Here are guidelines for all three:
Shoot for words that are fewer than five characters long, on average. Notice in the “old dog” axiom no word is more than one syllable. On average, there are fewer than four characters per word. Five characters per word don’t seem like much, but short words such as the common a, an, or the keep the average down.
Although sentence length needs to vary, try for an average of no more than 15. Few should be longer than 18 words.
There are two ways to shorten sentences.
The first is to cut unnecessary words, but with the caveat that we must not change the meaning. In the 18-word sentence below we can cut seven words without altering the idea. We can slightly adjust some wording.
Every single person said that they wanted to hold the next meeting on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m.
We’ll go with:
Everyone said they wanted to meet on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
That’s 11 words. I changed every single person to everyone and removed the unnecessary that. Also, I rewrote hold the next meeting to meet. Finally, I deleted the redundant evening because we know 7 p.m. is the evening.
The second way to shorten sentences is to split them. Here’s an example of a 19-word sentence that we can cut in two. Again, we can change wording and word order, but not meaning.
Professor Bob Jones received the Distinguished Alumnus award from Penn State University, where he earned his master’s and Ph.D.
Here’s one way to split the sentence:
Professor Bob Jones received the distinguished alumnus award from Penn State University. He earned both his master’s and Ph.D. there.
Now one sentence is 12 words and the other is eight.
Readers need lots of white space, especially in online or e-reader documents. Keep paragraphs no longer than three sentences.
Here is some practice in using these principles. Remember you can slightly adjust wording as needed.
Substitute shorter words for articulated and demonstrate.
As I've articulated before, writers should demonstrate, not tell.
This is an easy fix:
As I've said before, writers should show, not tell.
Shorten this 20-word sentence by cutting unnecessary words:
It’s impossible for me to say whether or not raising taxes would cause some or any businesses to increase prices.
One possibility is:
I don’t know if raising taxes would cause some businesses to increase prices.
That’s 13 words.
Split this 28-word sentence into two:
The new writer decided to take a course at the local university taught by professor Mark Killion, who worked in journalism for 20 years before turning to teaching.
Here’s one way to rewrite this:
The new writer decided to take a course at the local university. Professor Mark Killion, who worked in journalism for 20 years before turning to teaching, taught the course.
Now we have a 12-word and a 17-word sentence, for an average of fewer than 15 words.
Use a feature such as Microsoft Word’s “Editor” to check on word, sentence, and paragraph length. The website wordcounter.net provides similar information. (Note: I have no connection with this site other than finding it a useful free tool.)
These guidelines apply to most fiction and non-fiction writing. There are exceptions, such as legal documents and some technical writing. But keeping your writing simple is the best way to ensure that everyone will understand, enjoy, and profit from your work.
If you’re wondering about this article, its stats are 4.7 characters per word, 12 words per sentence, and 1.7 sentences per paragraph. That’s easy reading.
Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Joe Wisinski