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Break It Up

A construction worker looks at an extremely long sentence while saying, "Looks like I have my work cut out for me!"In health writing, we often have a lot to say. That makes sense — because as you’re well aware, dear readers, health information is complicated! But when you try to fit too much into a single sentence, you can end up with looooooong sentences that are hard to follow.

Consider this sentence:

On weekdays, appointments are offered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at our health clinic at 8457 Main Street in Springfield, MO for minor injuries, vaccinations (shots), and prescription refills; there is no need to make an appointment in advance.

Did you get all of that? Exactly. And your readers — especially those who struggle with working memory — will probably have a hard time with it, too.

But don’t despair! Here are some of our go-to strategies for keeping lengthy sentences in check:

We used those strategies to rehab our ailing example sentence:

Our health clinic offers walk-in appointments for minor injuries, vaccinations (shots), and prescription refills. We’re open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 8457 Main Street, Springfield, MO.

Much better, right? As we were revising, we also made sure to put context first — covering the basics (that the clinic offers walk-in appointments) before moving on to the details about hours of operation and street address.

Want to go one step further? Think about whether you can ditch the sentence format entirely. Does your content lend itself to a bulleted list or step-by-step instructions? For example:

Springfield Walk-In Clinic

  • Services: Vaccinations (shots), prescription refills, and treatment for minor injuries
  • Location: 8457 Main Street, Springfield, MO
  • Hours: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The bottom line: Having a lot to say is no excuse for never-ending sentences. Do your readers a favor and break them up!

Tweet about it: Lost in long, run-on sentences? @CommunicateHlth has tips for breaking out: http://bit.ly/2h6BOhp #HealthLit

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