- Run your text through a spell-checker or online tool to get the average sentence length and the total number of sentences. The average needs careful interpretation:
- 15 words per sentence or fewer: easy to understand and ideal for texts you need to make easy to read, e.g. texts for the internet, like this one
- around 20 words per sentence or much higher: harder to understand, but common or even expected in genres like academic writing
- Check the variety of your sentence lengths. Divide your average sentence length by 4 and by 2. This will give you the 25% and 50% deviations around your average sentence length.
- Count the number of sentences that deviate by 25% or 50% or more from the average sentence length. Divide these two numbers by the total number of sentences. Now you can see the percentage of your sentences that deviate a little or a lot from the average sentence length.
- Interpret the results carefully. Good writing tends to have higher percentages of sentences that deviate from the average because readers like sentence-length variety. Short, or very short, sentence are really good for emphasis.
1English-language teaching disregards an essential skill. 2We train students to communicate clearly and correctly, but why not to communicate creatively? 3The answer comes that 'style' is what rhetoricians and stylisticians do. 4But few people study these subjects. Learning how to communicate stylishly – creatively and engagingly – thus seldom occurs in language classrooms, and this oversight tells in students' texts. 5Perilously we ignore the teaching of style, caution Helen Sword, Ron Carter and Steven Pinker, for we at best create competent but template-like writers; at worst, writers who serve up dishes lacking fragrance and flavour and toothsomeness. 6My workshop addresses this problem. 7I will show that to communicate stylishly is to use the figures of speech. 8We will examine style in texts, and I will introduce a new website supporting the teaching of the figures.
Total number of sentences: 8
25% deviation (+/- 4 words): 2 sentences
50% deviation (+/- 7 words): 4 sentences
33% of the sentences are at least 50% longer or shorter than the average.