Style Guide 4: LOC – Sentence Structure and Length

In the world of writing, there are many things authors consider when they construct the work of art they are putting together. This ranges from word choice and diction to the outline, rhetorical devices, and even lower order writing concerns. There are many lower order writing concerns, which deal with the composition at the sentence level. The most basic and simplest, yet important, one of them all is grammar, as it is at the foundation of every single essay, paper, article, and book ever written. Grammar can even be seen in other sources of media, such as the news, blogs, or even social media such as Twitter. The way in which we use grammar can severely influence the way in which readers understand and interpret the point the authors are trying to convey. It is possible that an author could change a sentence, independent from the rest of the paper, and completely change the meaning of the subject by simply modifying a few words or changing up the punctuation of the sentence. Of the few lower order concerns that can affect a sentence, the structure of the sentence is the biggest influencer on how the sentence is interpreted and understood by the reader.

It is important to establish the standards and the conventions for sentence structure and length before analyzing how it can be used effectively and poorly. According to author Sara Vincent, the “average sentence length is 14 words” (Vincent) and “sentence longer than 25 words aren’t accessible” (Vincent). This means that the convention would be to have a sentence of around average length, but still include variation by having a mix of short sentences and long sentences. However, having a consistent and set sentence length can be monotonous and cause the reader to lose interest in the article and not understand the purpose.

The ideal way to write an article or paper is to follow the conventions so that the final product is as clear to the reader as possible. In this particular instance, it would mean keeping the sentence structure near an average of 14 words per sentence, while having a little bit of variation in order to avoid monotony. For example, in Act III Scene I of “The Violin,” the authors write a particular order of sentences that vary greatly in length, but still average to around 17 words per sentence. “They stared at the entrance of what looked like a closed vault when they took off their evidence scanners. Arthur looked at her. He was right next to her seeing the same things she had, hearing the full story just as she had, but her mind became so remote from him” (Soaser et al). Here, it can be seen that the author started with a sentence that is just above average length, but it describes what the characters are doing as concisely as possible. The following sentence is as short as can be yet adds on to the story significantly and builds the suspense that contributes to the overall progress of the story. The last sentence of this excerpt is noticeable to be significantly longer than the previous two. However, upon closer examination, it can be seen that the sentence is divided into two parts, with a phrase that describes the effect of something as a result of a prior incident. The fact that the sentence is broken up helps the reader keep track of everything that is going on without overloading the reader with too much information. This form of writing helps keep the story interesting and keeps the reader engaged.

The other way to write an article or story is to break conventions in different ways, although this can produce variations in the readers’ reactions because of the nature of the broken convention. In this particular instance, the two ways to break the convention of sentence structure and length would be to include multiple run-on sentences or to include short sentences in succession. For example, in Act II Scene I of the story “Unexpected Love,” the authors write a line of dialogue that consists of three exclamatory sentences that rush the scene and progress it faster than the reader can imagine. “A-a-re you cold? H-h-here-! Take my jacket!” (TheArtist14 et al). In this example, the progress of a question to an action to a resolution can be seen in a grand total of 7 words. The rushed pace of this line is a sudden change from the regular pace of the other descriptive sections of the story, which were slower and contained longer sentences. These shorter sentences and questions with very few words could confuse the reader and cause them to question why the character acted in the way he did or why the author wrote this particular section differently from the rest of the surrounding sentences.

Through the two examples shown above, we can see how detrimental of an effect not following conventions can have on the reader’s understanding of the story. It is important to make sure that lower order concerns are taken care of because piece-by-piece, they contribute to the overall meaning of the story.



“The Violin.” Storium, Scene 3,

“Unexpected Love.” Storium, Scene II,

Vincent, Sara. “Sentence Length: Why 25 Words Is Our Limit.” Inside GOVUK, 4 Aug. 2014,