I was reading the 30th Anniversary Edition of “On Writing Well” today and a certain paragraph jumped out at me. In reference to an example paragraph in the text, William Zinsser writes (p.262):
Each sentence contains one thought – and only one. Readers can process only one idea at a time, and they do it in linear sequence. Much of the trouble that writers get into comes from trying to make one sentence do too much work. Never be afraid to break a long sentence into two short ones, or even three.
I can’t tell you how often I cut sentences down into multiple sentences while editing. Pieces I review will often contain numerous sentences with four or five clauses. Too many clauses make for long sentences. Long sentences lose modern readers. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
Often times, nearly everyday, while I’m at work, I edit a piece that would be so much stronger if it had less commas, fewer ideas, and just a few less unnecessary words in general that are, on average, repetitive ideas anyway.
My brain feels tired after a few hours of editing sentences like the above. Are you guilty of writing like this? I am too. I encourage you to look through your current writing project. Find the sentences with too many ideas in them. Edit them down to size.