5 Tips for Clear, Concise Writing

Checklist_JohanHHave you ever tried to read a document written by someone whose purpose was to impress rather than to inform or entertain? It’s very difficult to follow convoluted sentences filled with unfamiliar words or familiar words used in unfamiliar ways. Writing that way doesn’t impress your readers any more than it informs or entertains them. The clearer and more concise your writing, the easier it is for your reader to follow.

Writing, simply, however, isn’t always easy to do. You may intend for your writing to be easy for readers to follow, but just having good intentions doesn’t guarantee good results.

Here are five tips to make your writing clear and concise:

  • Choose simple, familiar words whenever possible, but, most importantly, choose the words that best portray your meaning. “You do not require a cyclopean vocabulary to appear erudite” means the same thing as “You don’t need a huge vocabulary to appear educated” but isn’t as easy to read and understand.
  • Structure your sentences simply without using a lot of unnecessary words. “He stopped at the grocery store on the way home” is clearer and more concise than “He had to buy a few groceries, so he decided to go to the store after work; he stopped to pick up what he needed.”
  • Position modifiers close to the words they modify. “She wrote an entry about the fight in her diary at school” is confusing; “She wrote an entry in her diary about the fight at school” clarifies the fight happened at school and she wrote about it in her diary.
  • Use specific rather than general language. “A dozen children stood in front of the school” is more understandable than “There were a bunch of kids at the school.”
  • Read your writing aloud to catch and correct awkward phrasing. You’ll be amazed at what you will catch from reading aloud than you miss when editing silently.

Do you have any tips for clear writing or any pet peeves about unclear writing?

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