ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
January 14, 2009

How to Make Your Copy More Readable: Make Sentences Shorter


The longer your sentences, the less your readers will understand, according to research by the American Press Institute. The study shows that:

  • When the average sentence length in a piece was fewer than eight words long, readers understood 100 percent of the story.
  • Even at 14 words, they could comprehend more than 90 percent of the information.
  • But move up to 43-word sentences, and comprehension dropped below 10 percent.

Bottom line: To improve understanding, break sentences up or condense them.

Do you know ‘the numbers’?

Academics have tested and quantified what makes copy easy to read. Unfortunately, that research virtually never makes it out of the ivory tower and into the hands of writers who could actually apply it.

In Thursday’s teleseminar, Cut Through the Clutter: Master a Seven-step System for Making Every Piece You Write Easier, we’ll look at other ways to measurably improve your copy’s readability and clarity. Hope to see you there!
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Sources: “Readers’ Degree of Understanding,” American Press Institute. The research, based on studies of 410 newspapers, correlated the average number of words in a sentence with reader comprehension.

Ann Wylie, “Long sentences decrease understanding,” RevUpReadership.com.


By Ann Wylie, president of Wylie Communications, serves as a PRSA writing trainer and presents writing workshops throughout the country. She is the author of more than a dozen learning tools, including “Anatomy of a Press Release, Pitch and E-mailed Release” and “Writing That Sells — Products, Services and Ideas.” She works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. Ann travels from Hollywood to Helsinki, helping communicators at such organizations as NASA, AT&T and H&R Block reach more readers. In addition to writing and editing, Ann helps organizations launch or revitalize their Web sites and publications, and helps communicators polish their skills and find new inspiration for their work. Ann has served as a public relations professional in an agency, corporate communicator for Hallmark Cards, editor of an executive magazine and as a consultant in her own firm. Her work has earned 40 communication awards.

Join Ann for her teleseminars, “Anatomy of a News Release, Pitch and E-Mailed Release: Write Releases That Get Posted on Portals, Help Google Find Your Site, Reach Readers Online and More” and “Cut Through the Clutter: Master a Seven-step System for Making Every Piece You Write Easier to Read and Understand.”

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