LawProse Lesson #269: Average sentence length.

LawProse Lesson #269: Average sentence length.

Average sentence length. What’s recommended? An average sentence length of 20 words. That doesn’t mean that every sentence needs to be 20 words long. You want some longer sentences (well put together, naturally) and some shorter ones (perhaps two or three words). But your average ought to be around 20. John Trimble, the renowned University of Texas English professor, advises: “As a rule of thumb, whenever you’ve written three longish sentences in a row, make your fourth a short one. And don’t fear the super-short sentence. It’s arresting.” (Writing with Style 67 [3d ed. 2011].) Once you’ve written a document, run it through a grammar-checker just to find out your ASL—as readability experts term it. When you encounter an exceedingly long sentence, try breaking it up. Have a go at this one, and check your own ASL when you’re done: It was the understanding of the parties and the Court at the time the divorce agreement was entered that Mr. Miller would take all necessary steps to relieve Ms. Pruitt of mortgage debt on the property, which was to become his alone, even if it required refinancing on the property. To the extent that Ms. Pruitt is compelled to continue to carry this mortgage obligation, she will not be able to obtain any credit to assist her in getting back on her feet financially. Accordingly, this factor should be taken into consideration as an additional extenuating circumstance requiring deviation from the child-support guidelines. [104 words; ASL: 34 words]   How did you do? Here’s a suggested revision:   Under the divorce agreement, Mr. Miller was to take all steps necessary to relieve Ms. Pruitt of the mortgage debt, including refinancing. In exchange, the property would become his alone. If Ms. Pruitt were to continue to bear this mortgage obligation, she wouldn’t be able to obtain the credit she needs. The Court should consider this extenuating circumstance in deciding whether to deviate from the child-support guidelines. [68 words; ASL: 17 words] ASL is to readability specialists what bad-cholesterol counts are to doctors. Try keeping your numbers down.

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