Writing Clearly

Clarity is clear writing, and clear writing is writing that is easy to read. If an essay is easy to read, then the reader can concentrate more on your ideas and less on your grammar. We use clauses and avoid unnecessary word strings or phrases to achieve clarity. This resource gives examples of how to build and maintain clarity in your essay writing.


Creating Clarity

In addition to word choice, there are other methods that will help you to express your meaning more clearly. If we understand how different patterns of grammar can make small, but important changes to our meaning we can use those patterns to tell the readers exactly what we are thinking. Here are some simple guidelines that will help you.

Be careful about where you put subordinate clauses – This simply means not to break a statement into two parts, and put another idea in the middle. You can see this in the following example:

Being overweight, because of people's less active lifestyle, is becoming common.

Notice how in each of the examples below, the two statements are complete and not broken.

Being overweight is becoming common because of people's less active lifestyle.
Because of people's less active lifestyle, being overweight is becoming common.

Use active voice
– Passive voice is when the subject of a sentence does not perform an action. Sentences in active voice are usually easier to understand because active voice tells the reader who or what did the action. There are times when passive voice is useful, such as some very formal writing, but most of the time, active voice makes the most clear and complete statements.

Passive Voice – A decision was reached to change the plan. (we don't know who or how)
Active Voice – The committee decided to change the plan.

Avoid noun strings
– A noun string is a descriptive phrase or title made of three or more nouns put together. They are often difficult to understand and do not give the reader a very active impression, because they lack a verb for action. Notice how this makes the following statement.

This report is our education quality improvement project explanation.

Did you notice that the last five words in the sentence were all nouns? It is clearer and more pleasant to read if we change some of those nouns to their verbs forms.

This report explains our project to improve the quality of education.

Avoid multiple negatives – Negatives are words like "no" or "not" and prefixes like "-un" and "-im". When a writer puts too many of these into one sentence it becomes like a puzzle to figure out the meaning. You are asking the audience to complete a math problem: "a negative times a negative equal a positive".

We did not think that he was not unlikable.
We did not find him likable.

Avoid unclear pronoun references – When you use a pronoun make sure that it is clear that it refers to a specific noun from that sentence, or the sentence before.

With improvement in transportation, tourism and business have become more international. This has helped the economy of many places in the countryside.

In the sentence above, it is not clear what has helped the economy in the countryside. Is it improved transportation, tourism, or business? We can not tell what "this" refers to. Now look at the next sentence:

With improvement in transportation, tourism and business have become more international. Tourism has helped the economy of many places in the countryside.

You can see the same difference in these next two examples.

Larissa worked in a bank last summer, which may be her career choice.
Larissa worked in a bank last summer, so finance may be her career choice.

Source: Amy Larson, https://pb.openlcc.net/proflarsoncomposition/chapter/clarity/
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Last modified: Tuesday, September 6, 2022, 3:55 PM