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Grammar resource: Overlong sentences

“I have seen whole paragraphs written as a single sentence, over 100 words long. They make it extremely difficult to follow the student's argument.”

Jacqui Bartram, Library Skills Adviser

The importance of sentence length

Some students appear to think that academic writing must be complex with long words and long sentences. This is not true. Academic writing may cover some complex concepts and some of these may include uncommon terminology but that does not mean the sentences themselves need to be complex. Above all, the writing should be clear and the arguments easy to follow. Admittedly, a lot of the academic papers that you have to read at university do use long sentences but you do not have to emulate these. This is especially true if you are struggling with sentence structure – the longer the sentence, the easier it is to get the structure wrong.

Correcting over-length sentences

Look at the following example from a 2nd-year student’s literature review about muriqui monkeys:

Example:  This is further backed up by other studies on the diet of the muriqui, for example Martins (2007) conducted a study on the fruit consumption of B. arachnoides compared to Alouatta guariba (the brown howler monkey), it was found that while A. guariba was observed feeding on the fruit of eight different species of tree, B. arachnoides was seen feeding on twenty two different varieties, showing just how diverse their diet can be, even though it was found that fruit consumption was found to only make up 12% of their feeding time in that particular forest, though this number is somewhat questionably low compared to other studies.

The length of the sentence makes it harder to follow.

If it was split up and simplified, it would be much clearer. Here it is in three simplified sentences:

Example: This is backed up by Martins (2007) who compared the fruit consumption of B. arachnoides to that of Alouatta guariba (the brown howler monkey). A. guariba was observed feeding on the fruit of eight different species of tree, while B. arachnoides was observed feeding on twenty-two species. This shows how diverse muriqui diet can be despite fruit consumption making up only 12% of their feeding time in that particular forest (although this number is low compared to other studies).

Quiz