We’ve all read something that makes us pause and reread the sentence or paragraph over again.
Found in everything from books to blogs, and even in our own writing, confusing and unclear sentences can take their toll on readers.
But I’m here to help you improve the clarity of your writing, so your readers know exactly what you’re saying.
What Does Clarity in Writing Even Mean?
Simply put, clarity refers to how clear something is.
In writing, being clear can get difficult. After all, you may be dealing with symbolism and metaphors for your English and literature essays—and these literary devices are, by definition, indirect ways of saying something. And when writing essays on virtually any topic, you may be trying to convey complex ideas to your readers.
Clarity in writing doesn’t aim to “dumb things down” or remove your creative and unique voice. Instead, the goal is to sharpen your sentences and flow, so your readers can follow along and truly grasp your message.
Writing clearly is an ongoing practice, and there are many ways to improve clarity. My goal here is not to cover every strategy for clarifying your writing (that would get overwhelming), but instead to give you a few basic tips on how to get started.
How to Write Clearer Sentences
Many people write the way they speak—myself included. However, this informal style of writing can lead to run-on sentences, undefined pronouns, or just plain confusing sentence structures that don’t look right on the page.
Fortunately, there are ways to tighten up those sentences so that they make more sense.
Break up run-on sentences
Run-on sentences are those that, well, run on too long. They can typically be broken down into two or more sentences.
For example, you may write something like this: “Dalmations are the best dogs because they smile, have unique spotted patterns, and are very loyal that’s why I love them so much.”
Instead, you can break it up to say “Dalmations are the best dogs because they smile, have unique spotted patterns, and are very loyal. That’s why I love them so much.”
Define your pronouns
Pronouns—such as he, she, they, and it—refer to people or things without always having to use the names of those people or things. However, you still have to establish who she is or what it is before you use those pronouns.
Many times, undefined pronouns happen because there is more than one object in the sentence. For example, “Although Mary fought Sue, she was not injured.”
Wait…who was not hurt? A better way to phrase this would be “Mary fought Sue, but Sue was not injured.” Or if Mary was the one she referred to, you could say “Mary fought Sue without getting injured.”
We often use a lot of words to convey simple messages. Cutting out the fluff streamlines your sentences and makes your points a lot clearer. My advice is to write as you normally would and cut out unnecessary words (what some people call weasel words) during editing.
I know that, help, and like are my biggest weasel words. Most writers have words they use too often that don’t add any meaning to the sentence. Once you’re aware of what your weasel words are, you’ll use them less often. Soon, you won’t have to edit as heavily to avoid them.
For more ways to tackle wordy sentences, read Why Wordy Sentences Are Killing Your Writing.
Use active voice
Passive voice (the opposite of active voice) relies on to be conjugations. Examples include “The ball was thrown by Tom” or “Sally was dancing.” Stronger sentences make the action more direct: “Tom threw the ball” or “Sally danced.” Active voice puts the action in the hands of those performing that action.
Not every instance of passive voice is wrong or unclear. But when you come across it during editing, ask yourself if active voice would be a better fit.
How to Write Clearer Essays
Your sentences can be clear as crystal, but your essay as a whole might still be a bit confusing to your readers. That’s because clarity in writing isn’t just about the words that make up your sentences—it’s also about how those sentences flow together. Here are a few ways to improve the clarity of your entire essay.
Use an outline
Using an outline is the number-one way that I improve the clarity in my own writing. Outlines keep me on track and ensure one point flows logically to the next. If I didn’t use outlines, I’d forget what I was writing about and would likely try to explain multiple points at once. It would be a mess.
Your outline can be very detailed and include your thesis statement, as well as every point you want to make and every piece of evidence for those points. Or you could do more of an overview of your main points. You just have to find what works best for you.
I advise starting with detailed outlines first until you know what you do and don’t need from the process.
Even if you use an outline, you still run the risk of going on tangents. When writing, make sure your evidence relates to the argument you’re trying to make in that section. Also make sure your argument relates to the thesis of your essay.
Trust your readers
When people put too much pressure on themselves to get their points across, they often over-explain things to their readers. This leads to redundancy throughout the essay.
When reading over your essay, mark any sentences that say essentially the same thing. If you got rid of one of those sentences, would your argument still be as strong? If so, get rid of one of the sentences.
Want to practice these approaches? Try applying them to example essays from our database and marking areas where clarity could be improved.
Need Help Improving Clarity in Your Writing?
It might be easy to understand the suggestions listed above—but implementing them in your own writing is another challenge altogether. With practice, you’ll learn what to look out for. But no matter how experienced a writer someone is, everyone can use a little help from time to time.
So don’t get too down on yourself if you don’t nail it the first time. Here’s what you can do to get help catching wordiness or confusing sentence structures:
Read out loud
It’s amazing what reading out loud can do for your writing. The trick is to go a little slowly. When silently reading (especially when reading your own writing), your brain fills in missing words or changes them around to make more sense. But when you read out loud and hear the words, it’s a lot easier to identify mistakes.
Have a classmate or friend read over your essay
Make sure you don’t choose a friend who’s a “yes person.” You want someone who will give you constructive criticism. Once the person’s done, ask what point she or he thinks you were trying to make. Also find out if the person tripped over some of the wording or found any of your arguments confusing.
Turn to the Kibin editors
The editors here at Kibin are trained not only to find grammatical errors, but also to improve the overall flow and clarity in your writing. They make sure you understand where the weak spots are and how to fix them, so you can do better on your own in future essays.
There are many more ways to improve clarity in your writing. All it takes is a little research and continuous practice. So what are you waiting for? Go write your clearest, most cohesive essay yet.