How many words in a sentence? It’s a good question that doesn’t get asked often enough.
I say that because you can make your resume easier to read, and improve your readers’ experience, with shorter sentences. BTW, this also helps with cover letters.
Rule of Thumb for the Number of Words in a Sentence
In case you’re curious, here’s my rule of thumb:
To improve your resume’s appeal, limit the length of each sentence to 25 words or less.
While some people recommend 14 or 20 words, I find 25 words deliver plain English readers can understand.
How to Count the Number of Words in a Sentence
Many writers measure sentence length. It’s good for you to do so too. If you think you might have a run-on sentence, count the number of words it contains.
To count words in Microsoft Word:
- Highlight your sentence.
- Click “Tools.’
- Click “Word Count.”
How to Fix Long Sentences
Then, if your sentence exceeds 25 words, try these options:
- Simplify it.
- Break it up into 2 or more sentences.
I pulled this 28-word sentence from a resume in my files:
Established and led a global health policy program, set direction and strategy, raised $2+ million of funding, led major activities, and hired, mentored, and managed staff.
Option 1: Simplify
First, I re-wrote the example above as this shorter sentence:
Developed and implemented a 12-person global health policy program that attracted $2+ million of funding in its first year.
(See more here about how to write “million” for clarity.)
Option 2: Break It Up
Next, I re-wrote the example as a longer story told in 3 short sentences, each an accomplishment statement:
1: Designed and launched a global program to develop world-class health policy professionals for governmental roles in developing nations.
2: Raised $2+ million of funding.
3: Selected, mentored, and managed first cohort of Fellows, 85% of whom met or beat development goals.
How to Spot Opportunities to Shorten Sentences
Now, I want to share my 2 favorite tricks for spotting and fixing run-on sentences.
Trick 1: Look for Conjunctions
First, search for words such as “and,” “but,” and “or.” They often give an opportunity to split one sentence into 2.
I could have broken up the 28-word sentence above like this:
Sentence 1: Established and led a global health policy program, set direction and strategy, raised $2+ million of funding, and led major activities.
Sentence 2: Hired, mentored, and managed a high-performing staff.
Trick 2: Look for the Word “That”
Next, search for the word “that.”
I could have made the sentence in Option 1 above into 2 shorter sentences:
Sentence 1: Developed and implemented strategy for a new, 12-person global health policy program.
Sentence 2: Attracted $2+ million of funding in first year.
As you can see, you can use your resume to tell a short, simple story. You can also tell a longer story (but no more than 3 or 4 four lines of text).
In either case, your resume is easier to understand and has more impact when you use short sentences.
Also, if tightening your writing seems like too much work, you can always hire a resume writer.
Updated December 2021
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Donna Svei, an executive resume writer and former C-level executive, retained search consultant, and CPA, authors all of AvidCareerist’s posts.
She is a Fast Company Contributor and has written for and been quoted by 100+ business and general media outlets, including Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, CNBC, the New York Times, USA Today, Time, US News & World Report, CBS, the BBC, Lifehacker, Social Media Today, IT World, and Business News Daily.
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