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Clear sentences

For clarity, it is also important to keep a check on sentence length. If sentences are too short, your writing will sound childish; if they are too long, the reader will lose track.

Sentence length – not too long and not too short

Note: A skilful writer can produce much longer sentences which remain clear and effective. Some topics and some tasks may tend to require longer sentences. What is important is not that you count up every sentence, but that you think about sentence length when writing, monitor your own writing to ensure that the meaning is always as clear as possible, and explore opportunities to vary sentence length when appropriate. Short sentences aid coherence, whilst longer sentences aid cohesion.

Look at the three texts below, all on the same topic. Which is the best text? Which is the worst text? Why?

Text 1

Two canine cadavers with orthopedic abnormalities were identified which included a first dog that had an unusual deformity secondary to premature closure of the distal ulnar physis and a second dog that had a hypertrophic nonunion of the femur, and the radius and femur of both dogs were harvested and cleaned of soft tissues.

(54 words)

Text 2

Two canine cadavers with orthopedic abnormalities were identified. The first dog had an unusual deformity. It was secondary to premature closure of the distal ulnar physis. The second dog had a hypertrophic nonunion of the femur. The radius and femur of both dogs were harvested. They were cleaned of soft tissues.

(51 words; average 8.5 words per sentence)

Text 3

Two canine cadavers with orthopedic abnormalities were identified. The first dog had an unusual deformity secondary to premature closure of the distal ulnar physis; the second, a hypertrophic nonunion of the femur. The radius and femur of both dogs were harvested and cleaned of soft tissues.

(46 words; average 15.3 words per sentence)

What are the problems with each text? You can tick more than one.

Text 1

Two canine cadavers with orthopedic abnormalities were identified which included a first dog that had an unusual deformity secondary to premature closure of the distal ulnar physis and a second dog that had a hypertrophic nonunion of the femur, and the radius and femur of both dogs were harvested and cleaned of soft tissues.

  • What are the problems with Text 1?
  • Your answer:




Text 2

Two canine cadavers with orthopedic abnormalities were identified. The first dog had an unusual deformity. It was secondary to premature closure of the distal ulnar physis. The second dog had a hypertrophic nonunion of the femur. The radius and femur of both dogs were harvested. They were cleaned of soft tissues.

  • What are the problems with Text 2?
  • Your answer:




Click on the highlighted text to check the comments about Text 3.

Text 3

Two canine cadavers with orthopedic abnormalities were identified. The first dog had an unusual deformity secondary to premature closure of the distal ulnar physis; the second, a hypertrophic nonunion of the femur. The radius and femur of both dogs were harvested and cleaned of soft tissues.

The first sentence introduces the topic simply but clearly. The second contrasts the two conditions and so arouses reader interest. The third connects the two by summarising what was done to both.

Adapted from Matthews, J., Bowen, J. & Matthews, R. (1996) Successful scientific writing, CUP, Cambridge.

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