The ‘Breath Test’ for Concise Sentences

14 January 2010

Word count: 275

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes


Concise sentences

There are several ways to check that your sentences are concise:

Do they contain only one idea?

Do they have 20 or fewer words?

Do they pass the ‘breath test’?


Use the ‘breath test’

Many writing coaches teach people to use the breath test on their sentences.  I was reminded of it while driving home from work recently. 


Just before entering the freeway, I passed a police crew set up at the side of the road randomly pulling people over for alcohol breath tests.  Hong Kong police are very serious about drink driving – and the blood alcohol level permitted here is one of the world’s lowest. 


Even though I wrote last week about writing drunk, the breath test has nothing to do with alcohol.  It also has nothing to do with mouthwash.


What is it?

What it means is this: when you’ve finished writing something, read it aloud. Take a breath and read each sentence in turn. 


If you run out of breath before you finish reading a sentence, it’s too long.  Rewrite it – shorter.  You may have to split the sentence in two.  Or you may need to cut unnecessary words. 


 Don’t make your readers run out of breath trying to read  l–o–n–g sentences.


Next week I’ll give you some tips on how to make your writing pass the breath test.


A bonus

Reading aloud what you write has an added bonus.  You’ll be able to hear whether or not your writing has a conversational tone.  

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