Strive for sentences that average about words

For maximal readability, most sentences should be between 15 and 20 words. More than 40 words generally are too many. If your sentences consistently include fewer than 12 words - rare in scientific writing - consider linking and expanding some. As a bonus, a set of sentences 15-20 words long often will express an idea in somewhat fewer words overall than a set of overly long or short sentences does.

Too long: 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 in 1 sentence] Too short: 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 in 6 sentences; average, 8.5 words per sentence] A readable balance: 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 in 3 sentences; average, 15.3 words per sentence]

Guidelines refer to averages, however. Variation in sentence length and complexity helps sustain reader interest. A publication crammed with overly long sentences is difficult to follow, but a sustained string of extremely short sentences can be choppy and annoying.

Children commonly string together a web of sentences connected by and or but, hardly stopping to draw a breath lest they lose their audience. Writers often unconsciously practice a similar approach, unnecessarily linking loosely related thoughts with conjunctions, semicolons, or commas - and lose their audience as a result. When faced with overly long sentences in your own writing, locate the connecting words and punctuation. Separate the thoughts into independent sentences.

An overly long sentence with weak connections: Exposed poults developed enteric disease and exhibited 21% mortality during the first 3 weeks but controls had no enteric disease and exhibited no mortality; 20-week-old exposed turkeys weighed 0.6 kg less than controls and had a higher incidence of angular limb deformities and also had a greater incidence of rotated tibias and showed bowed tibias, while controls had a significantly higher measurement for tibial shear strength. [69 words in 1 sentence] Separated at weak connections, then edited for wordiness: Exposed poults developed enteric disease with 21% mortality during the first 3 weeks. Controls exhibited neither enteric disease nor mortality. When compared to controls at 20 weeks, exposed turkeys weighed 0.6 kg less, had more rotated and bowed tibias and angular limb deformities, and showed significantly less tibial shear strength. [49 words in 3 sentences; average, 16.3 words per sentence]

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