One area of writing we seem to have a lot of trouble with is how to write more clearly. Particularly, simplifying an idea, explaining what we mean, and clarifying what we’ve written:
One of the easiest ways to write more clearly is to become more aware of what the words we’ve written actually say.
Just as the way we use letters and punctuation affects how we read a word, so the meaning of a word itself can change depending on the words around it.
A word out of place can change the whole meaning of a sentence. And the way that sentences work together can change the emphasis of a whole paragraph.
Learning to be more aware of that helps us see what’s actually going on in what we’ve written, and can help us to write more clearly.
And, as it so happens, so can looking at how to simplify, explain, and clarify.
Simplifying an idea:
When we’re writing about a complex idea, one of the things we seem to have trouble with is knowing when to leave out particular details or nuances.
Points like these are important — but when we’re just introducing a topic, trying to say too much can get in the way.
Sometimes we have to simplify it down to focus on the overall idea – and leave the nuances for another time.
Explaining what we mean:
When something’s hard to explain, a good place to start is breaking it down into easier-to-understand pieces.
Particularly, separating it out into more concise – and more readable – sentences and paragraphs.
Another way is to ask ourselves questions that can help us focus on how to explain something more clearly. For example:
- Is there enough context for someone to immediately understand what we’re saying?
- Have we left out any relevant facts – which may seem obvious to us, but might not be to the person reading?
- Are there any topics or sub-topics that could do with being explained more fully?
It’s about asking ourselves, is there anything else that the person reading might need, or want, to know?
Clarifying what we’ve written:
We tend to have a hard time with the idea that what we’ve written isn’t already perfectly clear. And it may be – to us – but it might not to the person reading.
This is why it helps to develop our awareness of what the words we’ve written actually say. Again, it can be just a case of asking some questions to get ourselves thinking. For instance:
- Is the person reading familiar with all the words we’ve used (or can they work out the meanings from context)?
- Does what we’ve written make sense? Does one point logically lead to the next?
- Is there any word or phrase that sticks out as not quite saying what it should?
And, above all, is anything we’ve written superfluous – does it get in the way of understanding the overall meaning?
So, there we have it, writing more clearly by being more aware of what we’ve written and by simplifying, explaining, and clarifying.
Hopefully this brief introduction has given you something to think about.
Until next time, write on …