This post is about writing with clarity.* It’s tempting to write with fancy language and complicated sentences, but writing clearly is one of the best things you can do for your readers.
It’s important to write clearly so that (a) readers understand your message and (b) the reading experience is easy for your audience.
9 Tips for Writing Clearly
Luckily, tightening up one’s writing is one of the easiest skills for a writer to develop. Here are nine practical ways you can tighten your work:
1. Leave time for revisions.
Editing takes time. Budget enough into your writing schedule.
2. Cut out extra words.
3. Try footnotes.
They help you get those extra words out of your system.***
4. Err on the side of short.
Short paragraphs, short sentences, and even short words will make your work seem like less of a burden.
5. Breaks are your friend.
No, not writing breaks. Section breaks! Headers tell your reader where you’re going, and give them rest stops on the way there. Chapters are also great—try to create more of them, while keeping your book the same length.
6. Eliminate jargon.
Jargon: special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand. Use words others will understand.
7. Or, explain unfamiliar words.
You see what I did up there? When I defined jargon? If you must use an unfamiliar word, add a sentence or two to explain it. Same goes for unfamiliar concepts or uncommon references.
8. Switch things up with images, charts, or diagrams.
Adam L. Rosman wrote an article on “Visualizing the Law” encouraging lawyers to add images to their legal briefs. If lawyers can make their writing more fun with pictures, so can you.
9. Read the work of clear writers.
Reading may be the best way to learn how to write. Need a recommendation? Try this article by Paul Kalanithi, who was a 36-year-old neurosurgeon/cancer patient with a passion for the written word.****
Clarity Is Key
Whether you’re writing an epic fantasy novel or an email to your boss, it’s vital that the reader understand your meaning. Tighten your writing wherever possible to make it crystal clear.
How do you tighten up your writing? Let us know in the comments.
Below is a real-life email I received at some point in my life. It’s so confusing!
Take fifteen minutes to edit the email so that it makes sense.
“We need to let Facilities know which ‘cube groupings’ want to receive the privacy panel extensions. A cube grouping is defined as the grouping of 8 cubes clustered together, of which we have four. Then, our one standalone row of four cubes will also be a cube grouping. Before COB, please have one person from each cube grouping send in the cube grouping’s preference to me via email, so I can run our preferences by the recently resurrected Cube Committee, before we submit our requests to Facilities.”
Share your edited email in the comments below, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!
* Unfortunately, I now feel an incredible amount of pressure to make this the clearest post I’ve ever written.
** Also, I have discovered that when my writing really needs that word or sentence, it returns. Knowing that helps get over the fear of deleting something vital.
*** It’s not that I’m recommending that you break all the rules in footnotes, but better to do so here than up there!
**** I was introduced to Kalanithi via this article. Based solely on his writing ability (as opposed to the topic), I bought “When Breath Becomes Air,” his philosophical memoir about facing death as a doctor and patient. Heavy, huh? I read it in two days because his writing was so darn clear.