Writerly Wednesdays

Clarity and New Years Resolutions

My New Year’s resolution is to write clearly. Emails, social media posts, and novels need clarity. After some research, I’ve pulled together the top ways to keep readers from second-guessing meaning and working too hard on deciphering content.

Before you sit down to write:

  • Know your audience. Understand why they would read your writing.
  • Know your point. Yes, this means a thesis and a rough outline of your arguments. What are you trying to say? What is your storyline?
  • Know your tone. Will you approach the subject lightheartedly? Then, you may need to start with a story or another casual method. Is the subject serious? Start immediately with your concern.

When you begin:

  • The first words on paper or email should probably be written last. Begin knowing that you’ll change them. Flow into your story or points as quickly as possible.
  • You’ll edit later, but for now, write simple sentences. Start with the subject/predicate model. Expand from there carefully.
  • Word choice is everything. Put the most important word at the beginning of the sentence and the second most important word at the end. I could have written Everything hinges on word choice, and the reader’s mind would think about cosmic everything, then word choice would be secondary. Instead, I want the reader to think solely about word choice.
  • Clarity is about stripping useless words from the text. Remove ‘very’ and other qualifying words.
  • Strong verbs, active voice, and clear points engage readers. This style of writing does not come naturally. It’s a second language.
  • Follow grammar rules until you don’t. When you break a rule, know why. Perhaps you want to slow a reader down or jar them awake.

When you are finished writing:

  • Rewrite the opening line to match the tone of the work.
  • Edit for the following:
    • Punctuation. Errors draw attention away from the meaning.
    • Sentence structure, transitions, and compound sentence checks. Do you vary them?
    • Grammar. One last check.
    • White space. Does your work need headers? Chapters? More paragraph breaks?
    • Double check your closing to make sure it’s appropriate.

After you hit send to the editor or your audience, you do your best editing. This is because you’re able to see your text through their eyes. Before hitting send, consider having one or two people review your Facebook posts, blogs, and novels.

One last thought. Monitor reactions to your writing and file their responses to mull over later. Did the reader react to your points? Did they ask for more clarity? What worked? What didn’t? This will help you build a tool belt of techniques for writing clear, concise sentences.

Beliefs represented by individual authors are not necessarily shared by all members of ICW.

Author

  • Peter Leavell

    Peter Leavell, a graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history and a MA in English Literature, was the 2011 winner of the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest and 2013 Christian Retailing’s Best award for First-Time Author, along with multiple other awards. An author, blogger, teacher, ghostwriter, jogger, biker, husband, and father, Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. Learn more about Peter’s books, research, and family adventures at www.peterleavell.com

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