how many words in a sentence

Improve Your Readers’ Experience with Shorter Sentences

How many words in a sentence? It’s a good question that doesn’t get asked often enough.

I say that because you can make your resume easier to read, and improve reader experience, by writing shorter sentences.

Words in a Sentence — Rule of Thumb

In case you’re curious, here’s my rule of thumb:

To improve the effectiveness of your resume, limit the length of each sentence to 25 words or less.

While some people recommend 14 words or 20 words, I find 25 words deliver plain English that readers can understand.

How to Count the Number of Words in a Sentence

As you can see, many writers maintain awareness of sentence length. It’s good for you to do so too. If you think you might have a run-on sentence, then take a second and count the number of words it contains.

To count words in Microsoft Word:

  1. Highlight your sentence.
  2. Click “Tools.
  3. Click “Word Count.”

How to Fix Long Sentences

Then, if your sentence exceeds 25 words, consider these options:

Option 1: Simplify it.

Option 2: Break it up into two or more sentences.

Example Sentence

To further explain, I pulled this 28-word sentence out of a resume in my files:

Established and led a global program in health policy, set direction and strategy, raised over $2.0 million in funding, led major activities, and hired, mentored, and managed staff.

Option 1: Simplify It.

First, I re-wrote the example above as this shorter sentence:

Developed and implemented strategy for a new, 12-person global health policy program that attracted $2+ million of funding in its first year.

(See more about how to write “million” for clarity.)

Option 2: Break It Up.

Next, I re-wrote the example as a longer story told in three short sentences:

Sentence 1: Designed and launched a global program to develop world-class health policy professionals for governmental roles in developing nations.

Next, Sentence 2: Raised $2+ million of funding.

Lastly, Sentence 3: Selected, mentored, and managed first cohort of Fellows, 85% of whom met or exceeded professional development goals.

How to Spot Opportunities to Make Sentences Work Better

Now, I want to share my two favorite tricks for spotting and fixing run-on sentences.

Trick 1: Look for Conjunctions to Cut Average Sentence Length.

First, look for words such as “and,” “but,” and “or.” They often signal an opportunity to split one sentence into two.

I could have broken up the 28-word sentence above like this:

Sentence 1: Established and led a global program in health policy, set direction and strategy, raised over $2.0 million in funding, and led major activities.

Sentence 2: Hired, mentored and managed a high-performing staff.

Trick 2: Look for the Word “That” to Write Shorter Sentences.

Next, look for the word “that.”

I could have made the sentence in Option 1 above into two shorter sentences like this:

Sentence 1: Developed and implemented strategy for a new, 12-person global health policy program.

Sentence 2: Attracted $2+ million of funding in its first year.

Summary

As you can see, you can use your resume to tell a short, simple story. You can also tell a longer story (no more than three or four lines of text) about what you have accomplished.

In either case, your resume is easier to understand and has more impact when you use short sentences.

Also, if tightening up your writing seems like too much work, you can always  hire a resume writer.

Updated July 2019
Image: Fotolia/bellakadife

© 2010 – 2019, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

Comments 9

  1. Nice post Donna! As an ex-newspaper editor, I know the value of simpler and briefer. I like the multi-sentence option if the writer is addressing a huge accomplishment (such as your example) that can boost his or her chances at landing a particular job.

  2. Donna, this is a nifty guideline. Did you know that journalists are trained to write the lead sentence in 25 words or less? I distinctly remember being taught this in a journalism class I took in college. Ernest Hemingway was a journalist early in his life and his terse writing style is a reflection of his experience in that discipline.

    Ed, Love this! Donna

  3. Rick and Ed,

    I’m always amazed at how much my writing improves when I apply this rule. Thank you for the journalistic affirmations!

    Cheers,

    Donna

  4. I read this before, Donna, but just implemented the suggestions on a resume I finished this morning. I tweaked a couple. Sometimes focusing on a tip like this changes the way you look at content! Thanks!

  5. Donna, Short sentences like this are so much more readable, especially when surrounded by a nice cushion of white space. As a recruiter, I scan first, then read if there is enough interest. Too many people clog their resume with way too many words, which makes it harder to pull out what is essential. Your suggestion of 25 words or less is great for getting at the essentials.

    Lisa

  6. Great post Donna,

    I completely agree. As frivolous as this might sound, that’s why I love Twitter. Good discipline for short sentences.

    Karalyn

  7. Hi Karalyn,

    I agree about Twitter. It’s an incredible learning tool in so many ways. Tweet much and you will become a clearer, more succinct writer because Twitter limits you to 140 characters.

    Hope you’ve had a great Saturday Down Under dear friend!

    Donna

  8. I agree with this technique. Concise communication seems to be a challenge for most DIY resume writers.

    One possible reason is that there are certain resources out there telling people to create and fill their resumes with problem, action, result (PAR) statements. While these (PARs, CARs, STARs, etc.) can be useful for people to think through and practice articulating their key accomplishments, the literal interpretation doesn’t necessarily translate well to powerful resume content.

    Typically, I don’t count words, but do believe most bullet points can and should be one line. If a few extend to two lines, that is OK. Beyond that it usually makes sense to break the complex concept down to keep the description brief and balanced.

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