The Long And Winding Sentence: A Way Out

the long and winding sentence

Convoluted prose is difficult to read. The never-ending story of the long and winding sentence can make us lose the will to live.

There’s a way out. And, most of the time, it’s an easy path.

The two sentences I’ll show you today are not irredeemable. They are more or less grammatically accurate but have some problems with diction (word choice).

The main challenges for readers, though, are their length, complexity and structure. These problems create difficulties but they can be solved. 

Did you know?

You’ll see different figures but the average sentence has 15-20 words.

A sentence with more than 25 words is considered long. By that standard, my examples are whoppers.

Finally … there’s a challenge for you at the end.

Sentence #1

Read this beauty:

There should be flexibility and innovation in the way we think about health funding, so that we’re making decisions about how to spend our health dollars based on better patient outcomes, better integrated care, better efficiencies, and also creating an environment for healthcare workers that is sustainable and not so prone to burnout and attrition. (55 words)


This sentence is comprehensible but it’s also challenging, because: 

  • It’s an unnecessarily long and winding sentence – i.e. complex
  • The continuous present – ‘we’re making’ and ‘(we’re) creating’ – sounds wordy and waffly
  • It also loses its way at the end. Can ‘an environment’ be ‘prone to burnout and attrition’?

The basics

The sentence makes a recommendation, which would lead to positive outcomes: decisions regarding health spending; and improved conditions for health workers. 

I suggest one sentence should become three.


  • Shorter, focused sentences
  • A simple and clear recommendation in one sentence, with ‘We’ as the subject, for consistency
  • A sentence for each of the outcomes of the recommendation
  • Tighter, clearer expression, with no unnecessary words.


We need to be flexible and innovative when we think about health funding. Our spending decisions could then focus on achieving better patient outcomes, integrated care and greater efficiency. We would also create a more sustainable environment, with fewer healthcare workers experiencing burnout. 

(Longest sentence: 16 words)

Sentence #2

Another long and winding sentence:

Many factors, including differing professional and personal perspectives and values, role competition and turf issues, lack of a common language among the professions, variations in professional socialization processes, differing accreditation and licensure regulations, payment systems, and existing hierarchies, have decreased the system’s ability to function, causing defined roles to predominate over meeting patients’ needs. (54 words)


This sentence is also challenging because:

  • It’s unnecessarily long and complex
  • The main clause is cut in two, divided by a list of the ‘factors’ mentioned. This affects readers’ comprehension. By the end of the sentence, they have lost the thread.

The basics

The sentence says there is a problem, which is caused by a number of factors. This has led to a further problem

I suggest there should be two sentences, with a dot-point list between them. This will result in a vast improvement in understanding and visual appeal.


  • Short, focused sentences, ‘top and tail’
  • First sentence (the reunited main clause) to state the problem. Word choice is altered a little
  • Dot-point list of factors; each dot-point ‘finishes’ the introductory statement
  • More logical reordering of points. N.B. ‘payment systems’ remains ambiguous and would need clarification from the author 
  • Final sentence to sum up the difficulties and state further problem.


Various factors have reduced the system’s capacity to function. They are: 

  • Differing professional and personal perspectives and values
  • Lack of a common language among the professions
  • Variations in processes of professional socialization 
  • Differing accreditation and licensure regulations 
  • Payment systems
  • Existing hierarchies 
  • Competition over roles and ‘turf’. 

These staff-related concerns have taken precedence over meeting patients’ needs.

(Longest sentence: 16 words)

See more at The Art of the Dot-Point List.

The ‘the long and winding sentence’ challenge 

If you feel energetic, see what you can do to improve what really is a terribly long and winding sentence.

It’s not entirely ‘real’, thank goodness, but a composite I use as an example.

I’m sorry to say, though, I have seen worse (really).

In the intricate landscape of contemporary healthcare, where the amalgamation of biomedical advances, socio-economic determinants, public health policies, and individualised patient experiences intricately intertwine, propelling a multifaceted endeavour to cultivate a holistic understanding of well-being, the intricate dance between epidemiological trends, personalised medical interventions, health disparities, and the dynamic interplay of genetic predispositions and environmental influences converges into a complex tableau. (61 words) 

Good luck! ?

See more ways to Lift Your Language.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *