Finding the Right Balance of Words


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How well is your message understood?

Most people tend to ramble on and on when writing a message. The reader becomes confused and communication is lost. What you need to do is find the right balance of words and the right words for the balance.

The Right Balance

Good business writing is concise and to the point. The shorter your sentences and the shorter your paragraphs, the more likely your message will be understood. Studies have shown that as a sentence or paragraph becomes longer, the comprehension dramatically starts dropping. Here are some percentages illustrating my point:

Sentence Length Comprehension Rate:
8 words=100%,
15 words=90%,
19 words=80%,
28 words=50%.

Separate your thoughts by writing short sentences. Don’t try to string everything together using clauses like and, but, and however. Just because your brain may think in run-on sentences, doesn’t mean you need to write that way. In fact, long sentences often lose their dramatic impact. What was important becomes lost in the sea of never ending words. For example, read the following sentence:

“It has come to my attention that the second Thursday of the month is the best opportunity for development to meet with management to review the latest technology advances being made by our competitor and the ways our company is prepared to deal with this direct attack at our company vision of always being the first to introduce products that improve the lives of consumers and make it easier for them to use everyday business products like their computers, PDA’s, scanners, faxes and photo copiers. "

Whew. What a mouthful. Try saying that sentence in one breathe; it is 85 words. Totally off the scale of comprehension. We need to start eliminating some words.

What Is Your Purpose

In order to rewrite our run-on sentence, we need to first decide what our purpose was for writing the sentence. When I look at the sentence it becomes obvious to me that we have a couple of ideas that are getting buried in the dump of words:
1. Meetings with management the second Thursday of the month.
2. Meetings to discuss technology advances made by competitor.
3. Review of company vision.

I’m going to leave out the information about the company vision because I don’t feel it has any importance in the paragraph. The company vision is something that would naturally occur in the meeting discussion and isn’t necessary to the purpose.

The Right Words

OK, now that we have our two basic ideas, we need to formulate them into a logical, concise paragraph using short sentences. Here’s what I would say instead:

“Starting, in June 2005, the Product Management team will meet the second Thursday of every month from 1 – 3 p. room H-108. The topic of discussion for the June meeting will be the recent technology advances made by our competitor. "

We now have a 41 word paragraph consisting of two sentences. The first sentence is 23 words and the second sentence is 18 words. According to our table, the first sentence is a little long. However, every piece of information in that sentence is important to the reader understanding the message. So, we just need to break it up into two sentences. Here’s our final rewrite:

“The Product Management team will meet the second Thursday of every month. The first meeting is June 9, 2005, from 1 – 3 p. room H-108. The topic of discussion will be the recent technology advances made by our competitor. "

We now have a 40 word paragraph consisting of three sentences. The first sentence is 12 words. The second sentence is 15 words. The third sentence is 14 words. Notice how just these few changes made all the difference in reading comprehension.

Get used to counting words when you put a message together. It’s the easiest trick I know to communicate effectively.

Michelle Howe, president of Word Magic , specializes in writing irresistible copy for Web sites. She is the author of Web Site Writing Made Easy and Persuasive Writing Made Easy. Visit her Web site at for a FR^EE audio download of “Pay-Per-Click Success: Attract More Customers in 30 Days or Less" and FR^EE report, “The Five-Step Plan to Article Success. "


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