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 with shorter sentences.
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.
Some writers recommend 14 to 20 words. I find 25-word sentences deliver understandable narratives.
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.
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 that develops world-class health policy professionals for 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 a 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.
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.
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Updated January 2023
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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.
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Nice post Donna! As an ex-newspaper editor, I know the value of simpler and briefer. I like the multi-sentence option if the writer is addressing a huge accomplishment (such as your example) that can boost his or her chances at landing a particular job.
Donna, this is a nifty guideline. Did you know that journalists are trained to write the lead sentence in 25 words or less? I distinctly remember being taught this in a journalism class I took in college. Ernest Hemingway was a journalist early in his life and his terse writing style is a reflection of his experience in that discipline.
Ed, Love this! Donna
Rick and Ed,
I’m always amazed at how much my writing improves when I apply this rule. Thank you for the journalistic affirmations!
I read this before, Donna, but just implemented the suggestions on a resume I finished this morning. I tweaked a couple. Sometimes focusing on a tip like this changes the way you look at content! Thanks!
Donna, Short sentences like this are so much more readable, especially when surrounded by a nice cushion of white space. As a recruiter, I scan first, then read if there is enough interest. Too many people clog their resume with way too many words, which makes it harder to pull out what is essential. Your suggestion of 25 words or less is great for getting at the essentials.
Great post Donna,
I completely agree. As frivolous as this might sound, that’s why I love Twitter. Good discipline for short sentences.
I agree about Twitter. It’s an incredible learning tool in so many ways. Tweet much and you will become a clearer, more succinct writer because Twitter limits you to 140 characters.
Hope you’ve had a great Saturday Down Under dear friend!
I agree with this technique. Concise communication seems to be a challenge for most DIY resume writers.
One possible reason is that there are certain resources out there telling people to create and fill their resumes with problem, action, result (PAR) statements. While these (PARs, CARs, STARs, etc.) can be useful for people to think through and practice articulating their key accomplishments, the literal interpretation doesn’t necessarily translate well to powerful resume content.
Typically, I don’t count words, but do believe most bullet points can and should be one line. If a few extend to two lines, that is OK. Beyond that it usually makes sense to break the complex concept down to keep the description brief and balanced.
Thank you all for chiming in!
Responding to Talent Talks’ comment above: It’s spot on.
I usually condense STARs to action and result. If your readers want to know what you did to get those results, they’ll have to interview you!