While there’s no ideal length for a sentence, usually the average sentence should be 15-20 words. Anything longer than that and your sentence becomes confusing or clunky, though that’s not always the case. Don’t believe me? The following 60-word sentence might ring a bell:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Dickens’s introduction to A Tale of Two Cities may be one of the most recognizable passages in literary history, but that doesn’t mean a tough contemporary editor would agree. At the time, Dickens used the rambling to mock those in positions of authority. While it didn’t translate well, the impact of his words lives on.
What is a run-on sentence?
Dictionary.com offers this description of a run-on sentence: A written sequence of two or more main clauses that are not separated by a period or semicolon or joined by a conjunction. In other words, Part A says something and so does Part B, but there isn’t actually anything to grammatically connect them.
Freelance editor and content marketing writer Annie Sisk offered a slightly different explanation. “Here’s the simple definition of a run-on sentence: the mess that results when two or more complete sentences are joined inaccurately into a single sentence.”
Short and sweet sentences vs. run-ons
Despite the fact that most of us don’t have the literary flair of Charles Dickens, there are times when a longer sentence makes sense. However, if you’re focusing on SEO, shorter is always better, but we’ll talk about that in a minute. The main thing to keep in mind is that when structuring your sentence you’re not writing for yourself, you’re writing for your targeted audience. When writing for others you want to keep things as personalized as possible while getting your point across succinctly and briefly.
Sisk shared a run-on sentence and a few solutions:
- I love watching Mare of Easttown, it’s such a great show, I have absolutely no clue who the killer is.
Here we have three complete sentences:
- Sentence 1: I love watching Mare of Easttown.
- Sentence 2: It’s such a great show.
- Sentence 3: I have absolutely no clue who the killer is.
Sisk said you can fix this run-on sentence with a little clever slicing and dicing:
- I love watching Mare of Easttown. It’s such a great show but I have no clue who the killer is.
“The first step in fixing run-on sentences is to identify each complete phrase and carve them out into stand-alone sentences,” Sisk said. “Then you can use conjunctions or rephrasing to put them back together, or decide they work better separately.”
Incidentally, Sisk and I both agree that Mare of Easttown is an absolutely brilliant show, and by the time this article runs, we’ll probably all know the killer. But back to run-on sentences.Run-on sentences are annoying, but they aren't always bad. Don't believe me? Try reading one of the most famous 60-word run-on sentences in literary history @clearvoice #contentmarketing Click To Tweet
Short can be more potent
If online writing is your bread and butter, you might want to write shorter, punchier sentences. People scan your content before deciding to read and Google seems to prefer short and concise over endless run-ons. If you’re prone to run-on sentences, ask a trusted colleague to review your work or an SEO plugin like Yoast that will help you recraft your work.
One final thing. One of the most powerful examples of flash fiction is a six-word short story attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes never worn.”