by guest author, Hayley Milliman
In this article, guest author Hayley Milliman takes us through four ways to improve the clarity of your writing.
Clarity is key in getting our point across as writers. When our writing is clear, our meaning is clear. When our writing is unclear, our meaning is muddled. And when our meaning is muddled, our readers can’t properly engage with our work.
Fortunately, you can improve the clarity of your writing by brushing up on a few key fundamentals.
How To Improve The Clarity Of Your Writing
Clarity starts at the sentence level. Think about your sentences as mini movies that your readers play in their heads. They need to know the actors and the actions of these mini movies to correctly picture what’s going on. If your writing is unclear at the sentence level, your readers won’t understand what’s happening in your work. Worse yet, they may disengage from your writing because they can’t understand it.
We start by thinking about clarity at the sentence level because if your sentences aren’t clear, your paragraphs won’t be clear. If your paragraphs aren’t clear, the rest of your work won’t be clear.
Unsure about how to ensure your sentences are clear and easy to read? Not to worry. Let’s take a look at four easy ways to improve sentence level clarity.
1. Reduce Sticky Sentences
There are two types of words in sentences: working words, which convey meaning to the reader and are essential to the purpose of the sentence, and glue words, which are the extra words that hold sentences together.
Glue words aren’t essential to the meaning of your sentence. They’re not the actors or the actions. If you remove or rewrite your sentence to eliminate these glue words, the sentence will have the same meaning. It may even be more clear for your readers to understand.
Sticky sentences are sentences that contain too many glue words. They should be rewritten to improve clarity for your readers.
While glue words are important to make your sentence coherent, when you have too many in a sentence, it becomes hard to read. By removing unnecessary glue words, your sentence becomes clearer.
Consider the following:
- It doesn’t matter what kind of coffee I buy, where it’s from, or if it’s organic or not—I need to have cream because I really don’t like how the bitterness makes me feel.
- I add cream to my coffee because the bitter taste makes me feel unwell.
Each sentence has the same main idea: that the narrator can’t drink coffee because it makes him or her feel sick. However, the second sentence is clearer and easier to read than the first because it has fewer glue words. The meaning isn’t obscured by extra words.
You should aim for an average of less than 40% glue words in your sentences. That doesn’t mean that all of your sentences have less than 40% glue words. Some may have 50%, some may have 30%. As long as your document averages at 40% glue words, your work will be clear.
You can read up on how to write a great opening sentence for your novel, here.
2. Avoid Clichés
Clichés are phrases like actions speak louder than words, love is blind, and the grass is always greener on the other side. Many writers use clichés when they’re trying to sound relatable or to make their writing more accessible. Unfortunately, clichés often do the opposite: alienate readers that aren’t familiar with the phrase or do not understand it.
Even though these expressions are older than dirt (see what I did there?), when isolated, their meaning isn’t clear. This reduces the chance that your audience will engage with your work, especially if your audience is made up of non-native speakers.
When editing, aim to remove phrases that aren’t universal or don’t translate well into a different language. That way, your work is accessible to everyone.