28 Clear Writing
Good writers write clearly. Clear writing focuses on communicating with the reader. To communicate well, avoid any sentence structures or word use that could be confusing and employ words and phrases and can help clarify the relationship of the ideas you express.
Upon completing this chapter, you will be able to
- Apply specific strategies to write more clearly
- Avoid vague pronoun references (Meyer, 2014, p. 105-106)
- Avoid unnecessary embedded dependent clauses (Meyer, 2014, p. 105-106)
- Avoid double negatives (Meyer, 2014, p. 105-106)
- Use transitional elements to link and clarify ideas
Occasionally, sentences may need a sharper focus for their exact meaning to be clear to readers. Here are a few tips for revising ambiguous sentences:
Avoid broad references using this, that, and it. When you use this, that, and it by themselves, make sure the reader fully understands what the pronoun renames and replaces. Check that the pronoun reference isn’t ambiguous (i.e., that the pronoun doesn’t refer to more than one thing). If necessary, repeat the noun after the pronoun that renames it.
|Vague pronoun reference:||She helped to negotiate the recent settlement and this makes her an asset to the organization. [This can refer to both the negotiations and the settlement.]|
|Clear pronoun reference:||She helped to negotiate the recent settlement, and this 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 reference:||The article it stated that communication skills are valued by Canadian employers. In the article, it said only teamwork was more important.|
|Revised:||The 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, not in the middle where they can come between the all-important subject and verb. Choppy, stop-and-go sentences formed in this way are difficult to read. They can seem tangled, with too much squeezed into them. Opt for more fluid sentence patterns that mimic natural thought processes.
|Embedded clause:||The recycling facility, although it was originally intended for use by only one municipality, is now shared with neighbouring townships.|
|Revision:||Although the recycling facility was originally intended for use by only one municipality, it is now shared with neighbouring townships.|
Double (or Multiple) Negatives
Limit multiple negatives. Multiple negatives are sometimes used for rhetorical effect or as euphemisms (bland terms substituted for blunt ones), but the range of meaning in multiple negative may have sometimes results in confusion.
|Unclear:||He was not unhappy about not failing to meet the criteria.|
|Clear:||He was pleased he met the criteria.|
Watch these videos for more tips on how to write clear sentences:
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.
|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.|
|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.|
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.|
|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.|
|Although generalizations can lead to bias, having some method of categorizing cultures is helpful to understand how cultures differ from each other|
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.|
|There are now six recognized dimensions of culture. Previously, there had only been five.|
|When communicating across cultures, you should remember that cultural differences affect how your message is perceived.|
|In summary, cultural differences can cause miscommunication.|
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.
- Meyer, C. (2014). Business style: Sentences and paragraphs. In Communicating for results: A Canadian student’s guide (3rd ed., pp. 99-126). Oxford. ↵