Long, complicated sentences1 can be difficult to understand. To fix a complicated sentence, you usually cannot simply break the sentence into two; you need to look critically at the structure. Follow these steps to fix it.
1. Choose one main structure: subject-verb-object
Notice how many different kinds of phrases you use, especially introductory phrases, relative clauses, and prepositional phrases. Each phrase can be considered a different "moving part" and must be connected clearly to the phrases around it. Minimize the number of "moving parts" in the sentence to make it clearer.
When the main information is in a sub-sentence, move it to the main sentence:
These analyses show that
Most patients would benefit from the follow-up protocol, no matter the initial severity of the disease.
Reduce the number of prepositional phrases and relative clauses:
This in vivo cell-based platform produces recombinant proteins
This in vivo cell-based platform uses DNA transfection
To learn more about what readers need, read the reader expectations page.
2. Put the key content words in the topic position
Make sure the topic position contains given information and decide which verb should go next to that subject.
Don't put "researchers" or "past studies" in the topic position unless your research is about those researchers or studies:
Women with a BRCA mutation have an increased risk of certain types of cancer (reference).
To learn more about the topic position, read the topic position page.
3. Choose a precise verb
To learn more about verbs, read the tutorial.
4. Create parallelism
If your sentence has multiple parts, are they structured in the same way?
To learn more about parallelism, read the parallelism page.
5. Remove redundancy
You may be redundant when you use multiple words with a similar meaning:
My assessment is
I will assess how well the chosen research methodology is able to answer the research questions, focusing on the explicitness and delineation of the methodological choices.
You may use vague or empty words:
In this review, we determine what we can learn from the three strategies: recombinant protein expression, cell-free protein synthesis using lysates, and cell-free protein synthesis using purified proteins.
In this review, we explore the three strategies: recombinant protein expression, cell-free protein synthesis using lysates, and cell-free protein synthesis using purified proteins.
To learn more about wordiness, read the wordiness page.Photo by Bruce Mars
How does ReallyWrite determine complicated sentences?
ReallyWrite uses an algorithm called the Automated Readability Index to determine which sentences are complicated. The ARI is determined based on the length of the sentence and the difficulty of individual words.
The ARI score corresponds to the US grade level required to understand that sentence.
The US has 12 grade levels before university. So if the score is 12, then a reader needs to have finished high school (secondary school) to understand that sentence. If the score is 16, then they need to have a bachelor's degree before they can understand it.
The ReallyWrite Editor marks sentences as complicated if they have a readability score of 14-19 and as very complicated if they have a score of 20 or higher.
Not all long sentences are complicated. If your long sentence has a clear structure, it can still be easy to read. ↩