25 Clear Writing

Learning Objectives

Upon completing this chapter, you will be able to

  • apply specific strategies to write more clearly
  • avoid vague pronoun references
  • avoid unnecessary embedded dependent clauses
  • avoid double negatives
  • place modifying words and phrases correctly
  • use transitional elements to link and clarify ideas

Sentence Clarity

Good writers write clearly. Clear writing focuses on communicating with the reader. To communicate well, avoid any overly complex sentence structures or words that could be confusing. Use transitional words and phrases to help clarify the relationship of the ideas you express. Ensure that the subject of your sentence (the ‘do-er’ of the action) is explicitly stated.

Vague Pronouns

If you use pronouns like this, that, and it,  make sure that your reader will know what these pronouns refer to.

Vague pronoun reference: She negotiated the wage increase and formed a social committee for employees. This makes her an asset to the organization.

Problem: It isn’t clear which of the two actions “this” refers to.

Clear pronoun reference: She negotiated the wage increase and formed a social committee for employees. These experiences make her an asset to the organization OR Her negotiating experience makes her an asset to the organization.

Solution: Adding a noun after the pronoun clarifies what the sentence is referring to.

Redundant Pronouns

Also make sure that the pronoun isn’t redundant (unnecessary). In these cases, the pronoun is referring back to a noun that appears immediately before the pronoun; you can simply use the noun without the pronoun for a more precise sentence.

Redundant pronoun references: The article it stated that communication skills are valued by Canadian employers.  In the article, it said only teamwork was more important.

Problem: the pronoun (it) refers to the noun (article) immediately before it.

Clear pronoun references: The Globe and Mail article stated that communication skills are valued by Canadian employers. The article said only teamwork was more important.

Solution: remove the redundant pronoun.

Embedded Dependent Clauses

Avoid embedding dependent clauses. Put dependent clauses at the beginning or end of a sentence. Avoid putting these clauses in the middle of the sentence where they can separate the subject and the verb and make the sentence unnecessarily complicated.

Embedded clause: The marketing team, despite the budget challenges, created a strong social media presence.

Problem: the dependent phrase is separating the subject (team) and the verb (created).

Revision: Despite the budget challenges,  the marketing team created a strong social media presence. 

Solution: move the dependent clause to the beginning of the sentence so that the subject (team) and verb (created) are next to each other at the beginning of the independent clause.

Double (or Multiple) Negatives

Limit negatives. Multiple negatives sometime result in confusion.

Confusing double negatives: He was not unhappy about not failing the test.

Problem: too many negatives make it hard to understand the meaning.

Revision: He was happy he passed the test.

Solution: remove unnecessary negatives.

Watch these videos for more tips on how to write clear sentences:

  1. Using pronouns well
  2. Using modifiers correctly

Modifying Words and Phrases

modifier is a word or word group that describes another word or words. Misplaced modifiers are in the wrong spot and can make your message unintentionally funny and make your meaning ambiguous. Position modifiers as close as possible to the word or words they describe.

Misplaced Modifiers

A misplaced modifier is a descriptive word or phrase that is not placed closely enough to the person or thing it is meant to describe.

Error: The patient was rushed to the doctor who had been an a car accident. The doctor had been in a car accident? What was wrong with the patient?

Correction: The patient who had been in a car accident was rushed to the doctor. Place the modifying phrase “who had been in a car accident” as close as possible to the noun (patient) that it is describing.

Error: I bought a puppy for my brother named Spot. Your brother is named Spot?!?

Correction: I bought a puppy named Spot for my brother. Put the modifying phrase “named Spot” as close as possible to the noun (puppy) that it is describing.

Error: Susan got every exam question almost right. Susan got them all wrong?? Getting them all “almost right” means that none were right!

Correction: Susan got almost every exam question right. Put the modifying word “almost” as close as possible to the noun (exam question) that is describing. Getting “almost every one right” means that Susan got a high score.

Dangling Modifiers

Error: Having eaten all my dinner, the waiter brought dessert. The waiter ate your dinner??

CorrectionAfter I ate all my dinner, the waiter brought dessert. Explicitly state the do-er of both actions (I ate + waiter brought).

Error: Unpacking the suitcase, a scorpion leaped out! The scorpion was unpacking your suitcase??

Correction: As Mark was unpacking the suitcase, a scorpion leaped out! Explicitly state the do-er of both actions (Mark was unpacking + a scorpion leaped).

Error: To win the baseball team tournament, Louisa should join our team. You want Louisa to win the championship by herself??

Correction: If we want to win the baseball team tournament, Louisa should join our team. Explicitly state the do-er of both actions (we win + Louisa join).

To learn more about modifier errors, watch this short grammar video.

Then go through these slides[1] and try the sample test questions:

For more practice with sentence structure, try these OWL Purdue exercises

Transitional Words and Phrases

Transitional words and phrases enable your reader to understand how one idea relates to the previous idea.  When your teachers talk about “transitional elements,” they are probably referring specifically to “conjunctive adverbs”: therefore, however, additionally, finally, etc.


There are two places that you can use a transitional element:

1. At the beginning of a sentence: I studied hard. Consequently, I passed the test.

2. After a semi-colon joining two related sentences: I studied hard; consequently, I passed the test.

Notice that in example #2, the semi-colon is joining the two sentences and the comma is needed after the transitional element to offset it from the main sentence clause. See the Punctuation chapter for more information on commas and semi-colons.


It is also important to remember that, like conjunctions, transitions have different meanings. Review the chart below or check out the UW-Madison Writing Centre website to see a list of transitions and how to use them.

Addition Transitions moreover



in addition

Culture varies from place to place; furthermore, it varies over time.
Conjunctions and People from different cultures often have different points of view, and these differences can result in miscommunication.
Example Transitions for example

for instance

to illustrate

to demonstrate

High-context cultures place a lot of emphasis on social status. For example, and elder in Japan might expect a younger person to serve him tea using both hands as a gestures of respect.
Cause Transitions therefore

as a result

on account of this

because of this

Culture is dynamic and constantly changing. Therefore, the norms of one generation might differ from the norms of another generation, even within the same culture.
Conjunctions since



Because culture is learned, members of a given society seldom question the culture of which they are a part.
Contrast or Exception Transitions however

on the other hand




Low-context cultures prefer direct communication. However, high-context cultures can perceive directness as being rude.
Conjunctions but



even though

Although generalizations can lead to bias, having some method of categorizing cultures is helpful to understand how cultures differ from each other
Comparison Transitions likewise


in the same manner

People who are good listeners are often good communicators. Similarly, people who pay attention to cultural norms have greater success when communicating between cultures.
Time Transitions then




There are now six recognized dimensions of culture. Previously, there had only been five.
Conjunctions when


When communicating across cultures, you should remember that cultural differences affect how your message is perceived.
Conclude Transitions in summary

to conclude

in conclusion

In summary, cultural differences can cause miscommunication.

Online Practice

Watch this video to learn more about transitional elements.

To learn more about transitional elements, review the materials on OWL Purdue.

To test your knowledge of transitional elements, try this ungraded online quiz on Connectives.


Additional Resources for Improving Writing

Try this Linkedin Learning course called Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. When you complete the course, you can add the certificate to your Linkedin profile.

  1. Modifier presentation created by Krista Ceccolini, Cambrian College, March 4, 2022, shared via the eCampus Ontario Open Library.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Intercultural Business Communication Copyright © 2021 by Confederation College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book