What You Need To Know About the Average Sentence Length

Are you curious about the average sentence length? Learn more about using longer sentences and shorter sentences in your work below!

In English class, you probably learned how to write for a specific word count; however, as you progressed through school, you focused more on the quality of your work instead of the number of words you used or the average word length of your work; however, it is still crucial that you think about the length of a sentence, along with your use of commas and semicolons.

There are a variety of metrics you can use to track your readability. This includes your Flesch and Gunning scores. These are commonly included in free grammar checkers or extensions that show readability statistics, including those with WordPress. In general, shorter sentences and paragraphs will improve your readability, making it easier for your readers to process your information.

How might the average paragraph length or sentence length impact the readability of your work? Learn more below.

What Is Sentence Length?

What you need to know about the average sentence length

Before exploring the details of the average sentence length, it is important to understand what we mean when talking about sentence length. In English grammar, this term refers to the number of words you use in a sentence. Take a look at a few examples of sentence length below:

  • John watched Mary run down the hill: 7 words
  • John sat down to watch a few cartoons with Mary, Jill, and Jack: 13 words
  • John walked all the way to school with Mary, Jill, and Jack: 12 words

It is relatively easy to calculate the number of words in a sentence. This is important because a lot of readability formulas use the number of words in a sentence to quantify how difficult the text might be to read.

On the other hand, there are situations where a shorter sentence might be harder to read than a longer sentence. For example, if there are a lot of long words in a single sentence, this could make the information harder to comprehend. Furthermore, if a longer sentence contains a lot of coordinate structures, it could be easier to interpret.

In general, you should vary the length of your sentences to make your work easier to read. That way, you can emphasize essential points while avoiding the monotony of using the same sentence structure repeatedly. 

Now that you understand how sentence length is calculated, what is a good average sentence length for you to use? How are readability formulas calculated? 

What Is the Average Sentence Length?

Types of sentences
Research has shown that the average sentence length of English work has decreased significantly during the past few centuries

Importantly, there is no best average sentence length. You need to think about the nature of your work and how many words are required to communicate your point. At the same time, research has shown that the average sentence length of English work has decreased significantly during the past few centuries. 

Some scholars have done a significant amount of work researching the average length of sentences. For example, information published by L.A. Sherman showed that the average sentence length of work published in 1525 was just over 63 words per sentence. In 1595, about 70 years later, the average sentence had declined to 41 words per sentence. In the 1820s, the average sentence was about 26 words per sentence. 

Today, the average sentence length is between 15 and 20 words. This is significantly lower than it was in the past. If you have ever read works from Medieval times, you will probably notice that the sentences were much longer. If you want your work to line up with modern expectations, then shorter sentences are probably better.

What else do you need to know about sentence length?

What Is Readability, and Why Does it Matter?

If you are trying to publish your work today, particularly online, then you have probably heard about readability scores as they relate to your average sentence length. The most important thing for you to remember is that you must effectively communicate the information in your text; however, readability scores might make it easier for someone to interpret your writing.

Readability refers to how easy your information is to interpret. If your work's readability is high, it should be easier for people to understand your sentences. On the other hand, a low readability score could mean that people struggle to understand what you say. If someone is trying to read something with a low readability score, they may spend most of their energy unpacking the writing style instead of focusing on the substance.

What Is a Readability Score?

A readability score quantifies how easy it is for someone to absorb your writing. There are multiple types of readability scores out there, and all of them are calculated differently. For example, some of the most popular readability scores include the Gunning-Fog metric, the Flesch-Kincaid reading score, and the Hemingway Editor. Even Grammarly has its own readability score. 

Numerous factors play a role in calculating a readability score. These include: 

  • The longer a sentence is, the lower your readability score will be.
  • The longer your average word length is, the lower your readability score will be. 
  • The longer your paragraphs are, the harder your work might be to interpret. 

Because every readability score is calculated differently, not all of the factors above will be included in each score. The scoring scale is different for each readability calculator as well. For example, the Hemingway Editor will give you a “grade level” for your reading score, with a higher grade level being harder to interpret. The Flesch-Kincaid readability score goes as high as 100. A score of 60 can be easily understood by teenagers, while a score of 100 is easy for an elementary school student to read.

How To Improve Your Readability

If you are looking for a way to improve your readability, there are several tips you should keep in mind. These include:

  • Try to use short words that are easy to understand. For example, if you have a word with more than four syllables, you may want to consider replacing it with a shorter word. 
  • Try to keep your average sentence length short as well. If you notice you are using a lot of commas and semicolons, consider breaking up longer sentences with a period.
  • You can also shorten your sentences by removing a lot of adjectives and adverbs that are unnecessary. A lot of these words also have a lot of syllables, so that may shorten your average word length.
  • If you have a lot of jargon in your work, you may want to remove this. Jargon does not often make for easy reading.

Even though the font of your work is not necessarily included in your readability score, it could make it easier on the eyes. Consider using a font that is easier for your readers to absorb. 

Should I Use a Readability Calculator?

Even though you might have access to a free readability calculator, you need to think carefully about whether you should use it in your work. There are several benefits of using a readability calculator. They include:

  • It gives you an instant analysis of your work, letting you know if it is easy for people to understand. 
  • A readability calculator uses an objective metric, making it easy for you to figure out how the score is being calculated. 
  • Some online publishers will require you to hit a specific score on a certain readability calculator, so you may want to use one to write your work.

On the other hand, there are a few drawbacks to using a readability formula as well. These include: 

  • Just because your work is easy to read does not necessarily mean it is easy to understand. For example, short sentences with short words can also be difficult to interpret. 
  • Because every readability calculator is different, you could get very different scores for the same text.
  • There are some situations where you might need complex words and sentences to communicate difficult ideas effectively. 
  • There are exceptional works of literature that have very low readability scores. 

Think about the benefits and drawbacks of using readability calculators before you use this to drive your average sentence length. 

How Long Should My Sentences Be?

So, how long should your sentences be? The answer is that it depends on a number of factors. A few important points to keep in mind include:

  • Vary Your Sentence Length: Above all else, make sure you vary your sentence length. You do not want to use a bunch of super short sentences, and you do not want to constantly use long sentences either. If you use the same sentence structure all the time, your reader is going to get forward. There are some situations where short sentences are better. There are other situations where longer sentences might be better.
  • Think About Your Message: You should also think about the complexity of your message. How simple is the idea you are trying to communicate? If it is relatively straightforward, then you may be able to get away with shorter sentences. If your idea is exceedingly complicated, then you may have to use longer sentences. 
  • Be Concise When You Can: Avoid using adjectives and adverbs where they are unnecessary. If you can keep your ideas concise, then do so.
  • Look at Other Work in Your Field: It may also be helpful to look at other examples of written work in your field. For example, if you are writing a children's book, your sentences will probably be shorter. Take a look at other children's publications. If you are writing a research paper, your sentences will probably be longer. Take a look at other research papers to see how your work should look.

If you keep these ideas in mind, you should easily hit the right average sentence length. If you have questions or concerns about the length of your sentences, you may want to have someone else take a look at your work. They may have suggestions you can follow. 

Final Word on Average Sentence Length

There are a lot of factors to consider when you are trying to figure out how long your sentences should be. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources you can use to improve your sentence link. If you want your sentences to work for you, you may want to check out the Oxford Guide to Plain English, resources from Wylie, or even a Microsoft Word grammar checker. 

Keep in mind that you should not define the quality of your work based on your sentence length. There are situations where your sentences need to be shorter. There are other situations where your sentences might need to be longer. If you vary the length of your sentences, you will have an easier time holding your reader's attention. That way, you will have an easier time communicating your ideas. 

FAQs About Average Sentence Length

Is it better to have longer sentences or shorter sentences?

There is no right answer when it comes to the length of your sentences. However, you need to make sure you have sentences that appropriately communicate your ideas. There are some situations where you might need shorter sentences, but there are other situations where you might need longer sentences. 

Should I use a readability calculator when I am writing?

There are certain situations where it might be good to rely on a readability calculator. This is particularly important if you have to hit a certain number to submit your work; however, a readability calculator is not always necessary. A good readability score does not necessarily mean you have effectively communicated your ideas. 

How can I shorten my sentences? 

Look for sentences that have a lot of commas and semicolons. Consider breaking these up into multiple sentences. Then, consider eliminating your adjectives and adverbs if they are unnecessary.

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