Clear writing isn’t a top priority for a lot of people, and why would it be? With so many other important objectives to achieve in your writing – showing passion, creating interest, building a convincing argument – clarity just sounds boring.
But we’ve all started reading one of those promising posts with a great headline, then given up a paragraph in. No matter how interesting your topic, if you can’t communicate it clearly, you’ll confuse and lose your audience.
When you are imparting your information, you need ensure that it isn’t lost in translation – that your viewer isn’t distracted or confused by your language.
This can be tricky when you have a far more experienced standpoint on the topic than your readers; you may well be processing the information for the hundredth time, creating a natural disparity in perspective and emphasis to that of your reader. This could result in you omitting to mention a crucial item that you see as basic but the reader might not know about.
Here are six tips for clear writing:
- Plan every piece of content as a list
At school we used to plan essays in the very simplest ‘beginning, middle, end’ format. I do the same for blog posts, articles, web copy and even long copy – I sketch the basic narrative of the piece, outlining the crucial points in bullet points which I can later expand into paragraphs. The reason I do this is because seeing your entire piece condensed into 100 words or less means there’s nowhere to hide weak points or muddled thinking. If the concept is clear and sensical in bullet form there’s a good chance it will remain so once you’ve written it out in full.
- Nail your audience
Know who you’re writing to and what their immediate needs are, and make your language appropriate to them, so that when they read your piece they’re comfortable with the language and tone you’re using.
- Be visual
Appeal to your reader’s senses – if they can visualise an idea they are more likely to understand it. This means you need to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’; draw a picture with your words to leave a clear image in your reader’s mind. Using analogies, metaphors, similes and examples are a simple and effective way of doing this.
- Believe in your own argument
In order to demonstrate clarity and singularity of thought, you must understand and believe in the core concept of the theme yourself. Spend some time researching the topic and any contextual information that will help you to achieve a greater overall understanding. If you are deliberately vague on a point you are unsure of it will create confusion for the reader.
- Edit ruthlessly
Skim your piece highlighting any long sentences and aim to chop them in half. They might be perfectly constructed, but your readers need concise, easy to digest clauses. Don’t be afraid of over-simplifying your language and sentence structure – it is almost always better to use short clear sentences than long, convoluted ones. If nothing else it forces you to condense your ideas, making weak points easier to weed out.
- Be repetitive
Repetition isn’t always a bad thing. It will help your reader to stay focussed if you repeat and keep reinforcing your main point throughout your article, using visual signifiers if possible (such as italics, underlining or hyperlinks to additional info).
The key to clarity – and to happy readers
If in doubt, always come back to the fact that your average reader is likely time poor – they prefer concise and clear language to fancy long sentences. Don’t make them think too hard – guide them firmly to where you want them to get to (i.e. to contact you!)