Divide Compound Sentences to Improve Readability

One easy way to fix overly long sentences is to break them into two or more separate units. This fix works easily with compound sentences. A compound sentence is made up of two or more independent clauses—sentences—connected with a conjunction. Eliminate the connector, and you're left with two shorter sentences. Consider, for example, this sentence:

We received notice of your intention to attend the trade show, and we will send you full details by the end of the week.

The sentence is clear and straightforward but long. It has twenty-four words. Notice the word and. The conjunction and connects what could be two sentences. The sentence can be easily rewritten as:

We received notice of your intention to attend the trade show. We will send you full details by the end of the week.

The seven conjunctions you're most likely to use to connect independent clauses are but, or, yet, so, for, and, and nor. If you take the first letter of each of these seven conjunctions, you'll create the easy-to-remem-ber acronym BOY'S FAN. Finding one of these seven words used in this way—to connect two independent clauses to form one long sentence— allows you to quickly fix an overly long sentence.

Review the following examples. In each example, you'll see the pattern of compound sentences and learn how to separate them into two sentences, if you decide to do so.

Before: The Acme Corporation quote to update the manufacturing facility's computer system exceeded both our capital and operating budget limits, but we decided to accept it anyway because their service guarantee is the best. (thirty-three words)

After: The Acme Corporation quote to update the manufacturing facility's computer system exceeded both our capital and operating budget limits. We decided to accept it anyway because their service guarantee is the best. (Two sentences of nineteen and thirteen words averages sixteen words per sentence.)

Before: After reviewing landscaping and engineering concerns, we will build on the location farthest from the river, or if that location is deemed unacceptable, we may hire a surveyor to review other building site alternatives. (thirty-four words)

After: After reviewing landscaping and engineering concerns, we will build on the location farthest from the river. If that location is deemed unacceptable, we may hire a surveyor to review other building site alternatives. (Two sentences of sixteen and seventeen words averages sixteen-and-a-half words per sentence.)

Before: By hiring an on-site nurse, we expect to reduce some employee absences, so after reviewing the attached draft of the job description, let's schedule a time to discuss how best to implement this plan. (thirty-four words)

After: By hiring an on-site nurse, we expect to reduce some employee absences. After reviewing the attached draft of the job description, let's schedule a time to discuss how best to implement this plan. (Two sentences of twelve and twenty-one words averages sixteen-and-a-half words per sentence.)

Anytime you see this pattern, a sentence composed of two complete thoughts connected by one of the BOY'S FAN words, consider breaking it into two sentences.

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