Be Sparing With Short Sentences

Communicate Like a Human: Lesson 3.


Siri’s short sentences


Siri speaks succinctly.


Siri uses short sentences.


Siri answers questions, simply.


Or Siri says sorry.


TL;DR?

 
 

Short sentences are sweet


We are continually told to cut words and get to the point. We remove descriptivism and erase intensifiers. We are told that pronouns aren’t strictly necessary and determiners not required.


Sometimes I could almost shed a tear for the word ‘that’. It seems never to be allowed to come out and play.


When writing, we may think our every word is a small but imperative ingredient that needs to be savoured by the reader if they are to fully appreciate the reading experience.


When we are reading, that poetic metaphor rarely enters our thoughts.


Our lives have become too complicated and too full to luxuriate in language. We only have time to scan emails, websites, newspapers, and books.


The phrase page-turner may now be more appropriate to describe everyday habit rather than eager anticipation.

 

Short sentences are sharp


Allow me a metaphor.


Humans need to be sick. We must feel pain. Sadness is part of life. Loss is endured. Such things are hard. They hurt. We feel helpless. We usually survive.


When we experience negative emotions or illness, the brain stores the associated feelings. They are used to create a benchmark for the future, comparing how we feel now to then. The emotional memory helps us to appreciate how good it feels when we are just feeling okay.


Reading the second paragraph of this section may cause such feelings of distress. Taken separately, the impact of each sentence is punctuated by its brevity. Read together, the stop-start rhythm feels unnatural. It can make your audience feel uneasy, even anxious, as none of the points are given time to land.


Short sentences have more of an effect when contrasted with longer sentences that can elaborate with their own subordinate clauses. If the third paragraph started earlier - cutting out half of the 4-word statements - the overall reading experience would be more enjoyable.


And the short sentences would retain their impact.

 
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Short, efficient or short, officious?


Siri’s responses are almost always short. They often feel curt and abrupt. The tone is more efficient than friendly. It appears she is far too busy to be answering your requests right now.


Don’t you know how much she’s got on? It would be nice for her to feel appreciated by someone once in a while.


(Okay. we may be putting words in her non-existent mouth.)


Linguistically, a short sentence is one that contains no more than 4 words. Maybe it would be better to reframe our goal as writing sentences which are short-ER.


To maintain good levels of readability, an average sentence should comprise around 15 words. So having the idea in the back of your mind to aim for around 10-12 could set you in good stead.


If you are consciously counting words all the time, well...

 

Finally...

  • Short, short sentences are an effective way to break your overall flow.

  • They allow you to pause for breath (literally and figuratively).

  • With no room for things like fluffy description or opinion, they are seen as factual.

  • They show confidence and imply strength in the opinion of the person writing or speaking.

  • They land your point.

  • They conclude your narrative.

  • Like that.

 

On to Lesson 4: Love Your Longer Sentences.

 

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