Clear writing takes time and effort for most of us. Unfortunately, that's true even when trying to write something that is just reasonably clear! Every clear sentence you write is not an accident, so be prepared to write and rewrite!
You can find some significant help in our Thought-TALK workshop.
While I do not consider myself a good writer, I enjoy writing because it is a great tool that helps me understand my topic better. You might be like me. If you want clarity about an idea or theory that you have, then write about it. But make sure you remove clutter and look at it from the point of view of your audience. Then, read it with their perspective to see if your writing is understandable and, most importantly, clear!
You may already accept that clear writing is tough, but if you don't, here are six reasons clear writing is hard work.
It Isn’t Natural
Most people aren’t naturally clear-headed, especially when writing. That is probably true of you - it is true of me. It takes time and effort to write something that is just reasonably clear. That's because clear sentences are no accident. And, since clarity doesn't just happen, write and revise your document more than once.
It Isn’t Like Speaking
Writing like you speak is suitable for capturing ideas, but please do not use that as the end product! Try this little experiment if you don't know what I am talking about. Record yourself talking to somebody. Make it a 3 to 5-minute conversation. Now, turn it into words and transcribe it. I bet it sounds strange and often unclear when you read it.
If the video below were transcribed, it would need editing to make it clear. Hopefully, the conversation between Paul and me is clear as you watch, but it is different if you read it. Even when you transcribe what seems to be a clear spoken communication, you see many ways to revise it to make it better for reading.
It Looks at the Topic Through the Reader's Eyes
As you read what you write, it may sound clear to you. But you probably have been thinking about the information for a while.
Stop and prepare your mind. Do your best to ignore what you know about your topic and read it with that perspective. When you remove your knowledge of the topic, it sounds much different. So, rewrite it so they can understand the information how you want them to.
If something is unclear, most readers are tenacious at first. They may blame themselves for not understanding. But, after a while, they will give up and stop reading.
It Requires Clear Thinking
Clear speaking and clear writing come from one thing - clear thinking! All clear communication comes from clear thinking. One can’t exist without the other. The more you work with the sentences you write, the greater your chance of creating better and clearer thinking about your topic. As you process your thoughts into sentences, you aid your thinking, and that helps your writing get clearer.
If you want to write clearly, ask these two questions:
- “What am I trying to communicate?”
- “How would someone new to the subject hear it?”
It is Trying to Communicate Not Sound Important or Smart
One of the big obstacles to clear writing is trying to sound smart. For example, why not say, “It may rain” instead of “We are anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation.”
If your writing seems simple, you may think something needs to be fixed or people won't be interested in that! On the other hand, it may be the best way to communicate your information. Often, the more education, the worse the writing.
It Requires Subtraction to Add Clarity
Finally, clear writing is best when it provides the essential information rather than the clutter of additional words and data. So, you can increase your clarity with four simple tips. Remove...
- …unnecessary words; words that serve no function
- …long words that could be short
- …adverbs that carry the same meaning as the verb
- …passive construction that leaves a reader unclear of who is doing what
If that is too much to remember, consider this very simple SECRET...
- If you read it and it could be misunderstood, it’s probably not clear, or it uses the wrong construction
- “I once knew a man with a wooden leg named Smith.” (What was the name of his other leg?)
One of my favorite phrases is, "Muddled thinking equals muddled speaking." You can add muddled writing to that also.
All your writing needs great clarity, especially your emails!