How Lengthy Must the Matter Be in a Sentence?

In the following extract from “Making Sense,” acclaimed linguist David Crystal shows how sentence length and weight affect writing quality.

Say the following two sentences aloud. Which of them is more natural and easier to understand?

It was nice of John and Mary to come and visit us the other day. 

For John and Mary to come and visit us the other day was nice.

I’ve tested sentence pairs like this many times and never come across anyone who prefers the second sentence. People say things like it’s “awkward” and “clumsy”; “ending the sentence with ‘was nice’ sounds abrupt”; “putting all that information at the beginning stops me getting to the point”; and “the first one’s much clearer.”

Here’s another example. Which of these two sentences sounds more natural?

The trouble began suddenly on the thirty-first of October 1998.

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