When Is a Sentence Too Long?

How long are your sentences?

When is a sentence too long?

Here is a 146-word sentence I encountered on page 383 of Carl Sandburg’s fifth volume of his six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Is this sentence too long?

 In various angles this generation of citizens saw him as a public man, a politician and statesman, first of all, living in terrific high lights of scrutiny and interpretation, of representations ranging from the utterly true to the utterly false; he was a home man, a husband, and father with the routine of family life in a house seldom untroubled with visitors and intruders; he was a church man to more than the extent of being a pew-renter and a regular attendant at divine services – a theatergoer – a participant in public functions, secret interviews, and closed conferences; he was a magistrate of solemn proclamations, a high commander issuing specific orders, a writer of private memoranda for his own eye only, as well as a correspondent whose missives might be marked “Confidential”; a lonely walker and meditator, he had a personality intricate and mysterious even to himself.

When is a sentence too short?

Here is a two-word sentence that I encountered in the Apostle John’s 35th verse of chapter 11 in the Holy Bible.

 Jesus wept.

Is that sentence too short?

Here is how I decide how long a sentence should be.

Can a fifth-grader understand what I have written or said?

If I can faithfully adhere to my objective of using language that a fifth-grader can understand, I am certain that any adult with any level of education can understand what I am trying to communicate.

As a result, sentence length is not the issue.  Was it difficult to understand what either Carl Sandburg or the Apostle John was trying to communicate?  If so, why?

Using clear and simple language is what matters.

If you want to be understood, if you want people to follow your instructions or directions, if you expect a specific response, if you want to eliminate confusion, if you want to avoid embarrassment, use clear and simple language.

 Use Clear and Simple Language.

As a Creative Follower, you will often find yourself passing on information to your co-workers, associates and team-members.  In many of those situations, you will need to interpret, translate and repackage the instructions of your leader to them.  Not only that, but you will need to do the same thing in the opposite direction when preparing reports to your boss.

Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make yourself look smarter, better educated or more sophisticated by upgrading the education level of your communications to your boss.  Just use clear and simple language no matter which direction your communications are traveling.

Remember the objective is communication.

Make your communication easy enough for a fifth-grader to understand.

 Use Clear and Simple Language!

Jimmy Collins

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