24 Clear Writing

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.

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
    • Use transitional elements to link and clarify ideas


If you use pronouns like this, that, and it,  make sure that it is clear 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.

What is the problem? Which of the two actions does “this” refer 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.


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.

What is the problem? It is incorrect to place a pronoun immediately after the noun it refers to.


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.

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.

What is the 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. 


Double (or Multiple) Negatives

Limit multiple negatives. Multiple negatives sometime result in confusion.

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

What’s the problem? Too many negatives make it hard to understand the meaning.


Revision: He was happy he passed the test.

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

  1. Using pronouns well
  2. Using modifiers correctly


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.


These types of transitional elements link ideas, but they do not join sentences.

Two ways to use a transition:

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.

Tip: Remember that a comma is needed after the transitional element to offset it from the main sentence clause.

Notice that in example #2, above, it is the semi-colon that is joining the two sentences.



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.


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