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Ask an Editor: Breaking Up Long Sentences and Article Focus

"Ask an Editor" is a new series I'm doing where I take articles from around the web and describe how I would fix them.


Whenever I see an article online with a sentence or parts that can be re-written to be more clear, I get the urge to just fix it. This probably comes from my experiences as a blogger. When I would occasionally go back and read my older articles, I’d notice changes I needed to make and make them. On other people’s articles, I can’t do that. So here is a sample sentence from the article + my edited version. One thing that’s important to me is breaking up longer sentences.


Tavi Gavinson for The Cut, Feb. 23, 2021: “Britney Spears Was Never in Control Why did I ever believe a teen girl could hold all the power?” Retrieved on 3/1/21 from:


The main problem with this article is the author’s self-absorbed tone. Instead of talking about Britney Spears, which is what the article’s title and header image promise, she spends a lot of a very long piece talking about herself. I know it makes sense to compare her experiences to that of Britney Spears, but at some point the article loses focus and seems to just be an auto-biography of the author. I'm not saying that as an author you can't use your own personal experiences, but you have to connect them to the topic you promise that your article is about. That's what your headline and header image are; a promise to the reader.


Additionally, if I were her editor I would want to suggest breaking up many hideously long sentences such as this one:

I live with a low-simmering rage, accompanied by the knowledge that he could not possibly think about these encounters as much as I do, then wondering if my occasional wishes for vengeance or punishment — mere thoughts in my head — compromise my respectability, and therefore my believability, until I have convinced myself that nothing really happened, based more on how I might read as a victim (vindictive, heartbroken, always-knew-what-she-was-doing) rather than on the actions of another person (the whole reason we are here to begin with).

Here is one long sentence, with many parts separated by em dashes, commas, and two cases of having many words in parentheses. I think having whole clauses and even sentences in parentheses is abusing them. That content can often be put into its own sentence, or it could be ignored completely.

Here's my version:

I live with a low-simmering rage today. I know he could not possibly think about these encounters as much as I do. But then I have to worry about how my occasional wishes for vengeance or punishment will compromise my respectability, and therefore my believeability. Then, based on concern over how I might read as a victim, I have convinced myself that nothing really happened at all. I can imagine people perceiving me as vindictive, heartbroken, or thinking that I always knew what I was doing. Then, my attention has been turned to how I might be perceived, away from the actions of another person. But their actions are the whole reason we are here to begin with!

This long sentence had many thoughts in it that I think deserved separate sentences:

  • I am angry.
  • I think about these incidents more than my assailant ever could.
  • But, then I worry that even my thoughts will make me seem like a bad person, or make it harder for people to believe me.
  • But why should I focus more on my thoughts than on what he did to me?

What I did not do was change this author’s words to ones I would have used instead. I tried to keep as many of her exact phrases still intact. I just think that this sentence is actually a good four or five sentences.

Ideally, a sentence expresses a single thought. Multiple sentences in the same paragraph back up the thought, adding precision, depth, and additional insight. But all the sentences in one paragraph should have one topic and area of focus.

This article is way too long and comes off as a little bit self-absorbed in tone. It also gets kind of repetitive. There where many times when I was thinking at her, "You've made your point already, move on."

What are some ways you might improve this article?

Honestly, if you're a writer hoping to improve or are new to writing web content, there's no better practice than to read a ton of web articles and think critically about them! And that's what I intend to do with this new "Ask an Editor" series! It's a new idea for a series so if you like it, please let me know! Also if you have suggestions for articles you'd like me to analyze and critique, you can let me know that as well.

Until next time!

Copyright disclaimer:

  1. This article contains copyrighted content not authorized for use by the owner.
  2. However, my use of copyrighted content falls under the guidelines of fair use because I am only sampling enough content to use for the purpose of criticism, commentary, and education.
  3. This is covered by Section 107 of the Copyright Act.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Naomi Starlight


Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 02, 2021:

You make some valid points. Long, rambling sentences are hard to follow.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on March 01, 2021:

There's some good advice there which I'll take onboard. Thanks.

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