Like speaking, writing is a form of communication. When we write, we do so in a bid to relay an idea, no matter the form of writing we might choose. Stories relay ideas. Essays do. Poetry, too, speaks volumes. Writing is considered good when the message is written with clarity, the message is clear, and readers can easily understand it.
It is considered ambiguous when its message is vague and dull. Ambiguous writing tires readers out. Do you want to know how to write better and more clearly? Check out these ten tips for writing with clarity—for simplifying your message:
Before a reader appreciates and understands your writing, you, the writer, have to first appreciate it. You have got to be clear about the purpose of your writing and about the idea you intend to pass across. Ask yourself this: Why am I writing this?
Now that you have the answer think about what kind of writing would work best to communicate your writing. Would it be an essay? Would it be a story? Or will it be a poem?
It is important to choose a fitting type of writing because it is going to help you set a good tone for your work if you aim to write with clarity.
In writing, tone constitutes the bulk of everything. You can imagine the tone of your writing to be the tone of the voice your reader hears in his head when he reads your work.
News articles sound all serious for a reason, and that is because they are. Stories sound less serious because they are supposed to be fun and enjoyable. Poems are supposed to have rhythm and carry depth.
You will most likely confuse your reader if you attempt to write an academic project like a poem or write an official report like a play.
2. Apt Verbs/Phrases
Verbs are action words. In a sentence, they work to state the action of the subject. For example, in the sentence, “The boy killed a snake.”, the verb is KILL because it describes what the boy has done.
When writing, it is important that we choose apt verbs—verbs that agree with the subject. Subject-verb agreement is important in every good piece of writing.
You cannot say that a snake bleats. That will only make your reader spend minutes staring into the air, imagining what a bleating snake looks like. Would it look like a goat? Would it have horns? In other words, your reader will be confused by your improper use of a verb.
Phrases, too, have a big effect on your writing. Phrases are a group of words that can stand together as a unit. In the English lexicon, there are different kinds of phrases. There are the noun phrases, and then the verb phrases, then the prepositional phrases.
Throughout your writing, use phrases that do not confuse your readers. They should be clear and should not antagonize the rest of your sentence. When used correctly, English phrases add color to any piece of writing.
3. Familiar Words, Please
Remember that in the opening, I mentioned that writing is a means to pass information across: from writer to reader. This means that your one goal is that your reader understands what you are saying.
You most likely will fail at this if you use too many unfamiliar words, especially ones that are too complex, too big.
Using too many complex words translates as verbosity. I like to compare verbosity to speaking to someone in an unknown language. Imagine walking up to someone who only speaks Spanish and telling him a full story in English.
Your story may be the most beautiful story ever told in this world, but it will mean little or nothing to your Spanish friend. He does not know what you mean, does not understand a word from your mouth. How then should he appreciate it?
Except you are writing to an audience of literati, you have to be pretty careful with words that exceed five syllables.
Also, be wary of hyphenated words. Do not use too many in your works. Use simple, everyday words, and use them in a way that shows skill and artistry.
4. Sentence Length
Imagine listening to someone who just doesn’t stop talking. On and on, he or she goes, not caring if you are following on not. I guess you just rolled your eyes.
This is exactly what readers are most likely to do when your sentences are too long. Not only will it bore them, but it will confuse them as well since the content loses clarity. They will struggle to catch up.
Imagine writing a sentence that is 60 words long. By the time your reader gets to the 40th word, he or she would have forgotten what the sentence was really about.
This is not to say that you should stuff your work with short sentences. No. While short sentences have their place, they will alter the rhythm of your piece of writing. Use all sentence lengths. Short. Medium and long to increase clarity.
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5. Fewer Words: Make Your Words Count
If you have got that friend who would tell a story worth 100 words with a thousand, you will know exactly how annoying using too many words can be.
In the movie, A Thousand Words, starring Eddie Murphy, the main character learns how to relay his thoughts in a few words the hard way when he is told he has only 1,000 words to speak until his death. If he speaks more than 1,000, he dies.
As one would expect, he becomes quieter and only says necessary things. For this reason, people listen to him more, and it makes his opinions count more. This is exactly what will happen when you begin to write using a few words where just a few will do.
You don’t have to write ten words when only five can do the job. It does not make your work any better; it only makes your writers scoff and mutter a subconscious, Go straight to the point.
Do not repeat the same point over and over, except you are doing so for emphasis—and this can only be a number of times. Otherwise, it will impact clarity.
6. Punctuations Marks, Please
I promise you, when used correctly, punctuation marks are not dangerous beasts. They will not rip your work into shreds; instead, they will give direction to your reader. They will tell your reader how to read, similar to how maps direct drivers.
A punctuation mark can alter the interpretation of a sentence completely and impact clarity in your message big time. Compare these two sentences:
- Together we can mate.
- Together we can, mate.
Same words. Completely different meanings. What do you think made the difference? A comma, of course. Just a comma. To simplify your message, don’t forget to use punctuation marks.
Paragraphs are friendly and they help you write with clarity, making it easier for your readers to flow along. Like punctuation marks, they give the writer, and even you—the writer—a sense of direction. The reader sees a paragraph and instinctively knows that it points towards a new idea.
Your paragraphs should not be too long so as not to wear the reader out. They should not be too short either.
Too many short paragraphs will make even prose take on the form of poetry. It will make the writing seem sparse and may just make the reader not so interested in reading further.
8. Easy with The Figures of Speech
As the name implies, figures of speech are words and phrases used figuratively to express an idea. Meaning they are not literal. There are many figures of speech in English. A few include metaphors, oxymorons, hyperboles, etc.
While figures of speech can add beauty to your writing, using them too much can make your work ambiguous and difficult to read. You don’t want your reader reading your work with a dictionary, on the other hand, do you?
9. Stories and illustrations
One of the ways to make your writing clearer and more understandable is by using stories and illustrations to express your points.
Tell relatable stories, painting a picture in the minds of your readers. Make sure the stories are related to what you are aiming to say.
Humor is an effective way to pass a point across. If you are great at humor and sarcasm, do not hesitate to splatter some humor here and then there.
You can include some quotes to support your points if you feel the need to. This is especially true if you are working on research writing. Research writings, more often than not, require quotes.
10. Look Out for Errors
Do not publish your work just yet. Scan for errors. Errors in your work are like a stain on white clothing. The cloth might be very beautiful, but the stain would stop most people from putting it on. The bigger the stain, the bigger the discouragement to wear the cloth.
Errors in your writing will taint the conciseness and clarity of your writing. Fish for them and make corrections. Now, read. Do you love what you have just written? Would you love to read something like that from someone? If your answer is yes, then it is most probably great now.
These tips will help you make the most out of your content as you write with clarity. When you write your articles with clarity, you will find that your content becomes most enjoyable and will yield good results.