Clarity, Part 2: Strategies for More Light Bulb Moments

Last week, we discussed the two factors most likely to add clarity to your overall piece–knowing what you want to say and understanding who you are saying it to.

This week we are going to look at some strategies that will help you retain that clarity and strengthen it at specific points in your draft.

Here are 20 tips toward total transparency:

  1. If you are introducing a concept or idea that your readers will be unfamiliar with, build on what they already know.
  2. Dealing with complex ideas? Use short sentences.
  3. Keep your writing focused on the subject/topic. Use outlines to help you do this if you need to. Use TED paragraphs to help you with this in the body of your paper.
  4. Keep the subject and verb as close together as possible in your sentences.
  5. Make sure to use consistent verb tenses.
  6. Use action verbs rather than linking ones whenever you can.
  7. Unless your discipline (area of study) or style (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.) prefers it, use active rather than passive voice.
  8. Avoid vague or confusing pronoun references.
  9. Use qualifiers to avoid over-generalizations.
  10. Use precise wording for accuracy and clarity.
  11. Avoid adjectives and adverbs that are nothing more than “filler.”
  12. Define any words that your readers might be unfamiliar with, especially technical or scientific terms.
  13. Use simple language.  Don’t write as if you are using all of the words you had to learn for the ACT or SAT.  Remember, your goal is writing that expresses (communicates your ideas) rather than impresses.
  14. Use a thesaurus cautiously.  Yes, it can be a great tool if you are looking for synonyms for a word you’ve overused. However, many of the words you will find have nuances of different meanings and if you don’t understand what they are, you will probably end up creating a sentence that confuses your reader.  If you don’t know the meaning of the word you’re thinking of using, look it up before you copy and paste it into your text.
  15. Combine sentences to eliminate unnecessary or repetitive words.
  16. Use transitional words or phrases to make the link between sentences, ideas, and paragraphs transparent to your readers.
  17. Avoid overusing noun forms of verbs.
  18. Realize that difference equals attention.  Whatever is different about your writing than what surrounds it is what will stick out to your readers and is what they will remember.  For example, if you generally write short sentences, and one is significantly longer (or vise versa), your readers are more likely to remember what is in the sentence with the different length.  Make sure it’s what you want to leave them with or what should be emphasized. Otherwise, they will be confused.
  19. Read your work out loud.  Not silently. Not in a whisper or simply mouthing the words, but out loud at a normal speaking volume. (Inside voices will do nicely.) Focus on reading what is actually on the page, not what you intend to be there or know should be.  If you find yourself stumbling over words or passages as you try to read, or if you find yourself making corrections as you go (so what your mouth says doesn’t match what your eyes see), then these are places your readers will also be confused.  Unlike you, though, they won’t be able to make those on-the-fly corrections.
  20. Read. Read more. Keep reading.  Don’t just read your assignments for class. (But do those, too!) Don’t spend all of your reading time on social media.  Find some quality writing and read it. (Yes, it can be found in your textbooks and on social media, but learn to diversify!) Look for a variety of topics, genres, and styles that you can read.  The more you do this, the more you will innately pick up on what works and what doesn’t work for other writers and be able to incorporate that into your own writing. Writers are readers, after all.

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With that, you should have an easier time clearly communicating your ideas to someone else using the written word. If you have any questions or need help, contact us at the Writing Center.  We would be glad to assist you.  Remember, next week is Spring Break so we will be closed.  That also means no new posts for next week, but check back with us when you get back to classes that last week in March.  More grammar goodness and writing help is on the way!






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