What Is the Ideal Sentence Length for Academic Research Papers?

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If you’re a writer of any kind, you already know writing isn’t easy, but academic writing presents even more challenges. You want to be formal but not flowery and accurate but not too esoteric for your audience. Successful academic writing uses clear, concise sentences to present complex information in the simplest way possible while also engaging the reader with a text that flows smoothly. However, striking that balance can be hard.

If you’re writing a research paper, you should steer clear of flowery language and unnecessary descriptions that can make the writing feel cluttered and convoluted. You should also avoid overly long sentences as they are more difficult to process. It may feel like fancy vocabulary and expressions make you sound smarter, but all they do is obscure your message and signal pretentiousness. You want to focus on your thesis and message while respecting the formatting rules of academic writing. At the same time, be careful with short, choppy sentences because they disrupt the flow and make a text hard to read. 

So, how do you craft the perfect sentence?

You can write, edit, and rewrite your paper by yourself until the way you present the information is as flawless as the sentence structure. Alternatively, you can order our deluxe academic package, which will ensure your work adheres to the highest standards of academic excellence. Our experienced academic editors will fix any grammar and spelling errors, eliminate inconsistencies, review the submission requirements of your chosen journal, identify possible instances of plagiarism, and optimize sentence structure, among other things. 

If you’re not yet ready to send your document to a professional editor, let’s take a look at what the ideal sentence length is for academic research papers. Of course, the best writing successfully combines longer and shorter sentences to ensure a smooth flow of information, and these tips can steer you in the right direction.

How long should my sentences be?

In academic writing, it’s imperative that every phrase has a clear purpose. Every word that makes it onto the page should be there for a reason, so avoid overly long phrases or superfluous information that doesn’t add value to your message. As a general rule, though, it’s important to use sentences of different lengths, rhythms, and complexity to create a natural flow. Of course, the style and tone will depend on the field, audience, and nature of your topic, as well as your expected word count, which is why a fantasy novel and a research paper will have completely different sentence structures. 

To begin with, consider what the main point of each sentence is, what the paragraph needs from it, and how concrete it is in presenting the necessary information. Are there too many ideas bunched together? Are you failing to say anything at all? Does the information enrich your overall message or provide important context to your study, or is it a rather irrelevant tidbit that doesn’t advance your thesis at all? Does your sentence flow naturally from the previous one and into the next, or does it feel out of place?

For research and academic writing, it’s suggested that a sentence range in length from 20 to 35 words. However, be flexible and don’t follow this prescription blindly, or your readers will easily lose interest, regardless of how fascinating your subject matter is. You want your writing to sound natural, which is why it’s essential to vary the length of your sentences depending on whether you need them to emphasize a point, establish a connection between two concepts, or explain an idea in greater detail. Consider this suggestion a guideline, not a hard rule, combining shorter sentences or truncating longer ones when appropriate.

Is my sentence too short?

At its most basic level, a complete sentence should have a subject and a verb, but that doesn’t mean you should be using five-word sentences throughout your text. If you have short sentences that feel forced, strange, or incomplete when read aloud, work on expanding them by adding relevant details and making sure the context is clear without being repetitive or redundant. 

If your sentences are consistently too short, there’s a good chance you’re not offering enough information or at least not providing it with the appropriate depth. Academic writing inherently dives into complex niche subjects that require a good deal of nuance, and you want to make sure you’re conveying all the subtleties of your topic. Writing assistance tools such as Microsoft Word’s “conciseness check” often come up with suggestions that alter the meaning or nuance of a sentence, so don’t accept them without careful consideration. 

If you have nothing to add to make the sentence longer, the easiest way to fix this is to combine it with another sentence. Whether you use commas, semicolons, em dashes, or conjunctions, connecting two sentences with similar ideas can improve the flow of your writing. However, you can’t do this haphazardly—the combination has to both make sense and work on a linguistic level. Also, avoid using the same sentence-linking patterns, or your writing will quickly become stale.

Is my sentence too long? 

Even worse than overly short sentences are overly long ones. Especially in academia, it’s critical to avoid sentences that go on forever as the meaning can be easily misconstrued because of all the verbiage. This is all the more true if your topic is particularly complex—readers may struggle to fully understand the content even with the best possible academic writing. You want your audience to effortlessly grasp your message and be able to follow your ideas as they expand and develop. However, that can be hard to do when there is too much information crammed into one sentence. 

If a sentence feels too long when read aloud, trim it or break it up so it doesn’t sound contrived. Cut out unnecessary, obscure, or repetitive words and focus on delivering your message clearly. Basically, if a word is not adding to your message and isn’t crucial to understanding the sentence, it can be removed. That said, don’t go crazy with the backspace key—while there are usually plenty of ways to condense an overly long sentence without sacrificing meaning and nuance, some words are essential for maintaining a high level of accuracy in your language.

Excessively long sentences are typically the result of either a desire to appear smarter by using obscure and flowery language or an attempt to increase the word count. Packing your paper with words that will have your readers checking a dictionary every other minute doesn’t make you look smart—it denotes poor communication skills, makes you seem pretentious, and significantly dilutes the message you seek to convey. If you’re trying to meet a particular word count, downgrading the quality of your writing by inserting superfluous words into your sentence is the worst way to go about it. Instead, enhance your paper with extra information that adds real value.  

Writing is an art and requires a specific set of skills that take time and practice to master, which is why many academics struggle with writing their research papers—it’s just not what they’re trained to do. If you know you have winning research ideas but need some help to present them in great writing, check out our combined proofreading and editing service for academic authors. Our team of experts will deliver a spotless copy of your document ready for publication and formatted consistently according to your preferred style guide. 

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