Clarity is something that every writer strives for. However, directions to “clarify this passage” or “make that passage easier to read” can be anything but clear. Each individual writer has their own particular strengths and weaknesses which can affect the clarity of their writing. Here’s a handy checklist that you can use to see what you need to do when you receive this particular criticism.
- Go on a hunt for long sentences. As you advance, you’ll be able to wield longer and longer sentences without sacrificing clarity. However, there’s always something to be said for closely examining any sentence over 25 words in length and seeing if you can’t divide it into smaller, clearer sentences.
- Highlight the noun phrases in your writing. Frequently, in our desire to bring our sentences’ subject to life on the page, we accomplish the opposite by burying the subject in a heap of modifiers. Shorter noun phrases (and shorter verb phrases, and shorter adverbial phrases) will help you clarify your writing.
- Look for the logical flow. It need not be as simple and stilted as “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is mortal,” but you do need to be building your paragraphs’ ideas in a simple, easy-to-follow format.
- Look for words you don’t need. Adverbs and adjectives are typically first to the wall when you start editing for clarity. Although clear writing has some descriptors to distinguish the characters and objects it describes, there is rarely a need to use these words for mere decoration.
- Make a checklist of everything you want the reader to take away from a given passage, and then highlight the areas where you think you’re communicating this information. You’ll often surprise yourself with missing or garbled information when you take this step.
This list should by no means be considered a complete guide to clarifying your writing, but it can certainly provide you with a good start. Whether you’re working on an academic paper or an experimental poem, clarity is essential to strong, powerful writing. Editing for clarity is a career-long task for any writer, and although the challenges are great, the rewards are even moreso.