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31 May 2010

Are short sentences meaningless?

Short well-constructed sentences can help the time-poor reader read a document and absorb the messages quickly.

Two seemingly unrelated things happened in my Saturday morning: my daughter got one of her first-year university papers back, and I joined Twitter.

My daughter was a little disappointed with her grade, and rightly so (not that I’m a biased mother!). If the marker’s comments are anything to go by, my daughter was marked harshly for seemingly minor mistakes. The comment that stood out for me was ‘short sentences are meaningless’.

‘Self-care is a human need.’ was one of the offending sentences in the essay. The sentence contains one idea, and is grammatically correct. In fact, it was the first sentence of a paragraph and the other sentences in the paragraph supported it. And it also neatly linked the topic of the paragraph it started with the one before.

Feeling somewhat vexed for my daughter, I then distracted myself by joining Twitter.

Twitter loves short sentences! You have just 140 characters in a tweet. People tweeting (are they twits?), write short, informative sentences. Long rambling sentences just don’t work on twitter.

Actually, I personally don’t think long sentences work particularly well anywhere—even in academic writing. But, ultimately, I think I should be grateful to people like my daughter’s marker—they keep me in a job.