7 Simple Tips to Write Clearly

    write clearly- balnk page and pencil

    Writing is hard work. It’s your job to string together words in such a way that readers will effortlessly understand your meaning.

    If you’re writing a novel or poem, of course, you can break the rules and indulge in strange twists of phrase. But if you want to write a crisp blog post, persuade someone to buy your product, or explain how to do something step-by-step, your writing must be crystal clear. In fact, clarity is your #1 job, no matter what you’re writing.

    There’s no formula for writing clearly, but there are techniques you can use to improve your prose.  Below, I list seven tips for making your writing simple and direct.

    1. Put the reader first.

    Your purpose is to communicate, not to show off your writing prowess. Words are the medium you use to transport the meaning in your head to the head of another person. You must ask yourself, “Who will read this?” Picture a real person and write directly to him or her.

    2. Organize your thoughts.

    You don’t need a detailed outline for most writing. If you’re comfortable with the sort of outline you learned in school, use it. Generally, all you need is to jot down the important points you want to make, and arrange them in the order you want to make them.

    3. Use short paragraphs.

    Look at any newspaper and notice how short the paragraphs are. That’s done to make reading easier and faster, since our brains take in information better when it’s broken into little chunks. Short paragraphs also look easier and less intimidating.

    4. Use short sentences.

    You should keep sentences short for the same reason you keep paragraphs short: it’s easier to read and understand. Each sentence should have one idea. More than that, and your reader may get confused.

    5. Use simple words.

    Since your purpose is to communicate, simple words work better than big ones.  Write “get” instead of “procure.” Write “use” rather than “utilize.” Use longer words only if your meaning is so specific that there is no simpler alternative.

    6. Be specific.

    Don’t write “adverse weather conditions will not result in structural degradation.” Just write “the roof won’t leak if it rains.” Get to the point. Say what you mean.

    7. Write in a conversational style.

    Don’t try too hard to sound educated or witty. Although you need to use good grammar and observe usage conventions, you should write in a way that comes naturally. Think of writing as a casual conversation between friends.

    Do these tips sound familiar?

    They should. William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White summarized essential tips such as these in The Elements of Style (Original Edition)

    It is the quintessential writing guide for simple, clear writing. Read it. Then read it again. Its message is as clear as its prose: Cut the fat. Keep it simple. Say what you mean.

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    About the author

      Dean Rieck

      Dean Rieck is a leading copywriter who has worked with more than 200 clients in the U.S. and abroad. For more copywriting tips, sign up for Dean’s FREE direct response newsletter or visit Direct Creative

    • Antoinette Baranov says:

      Good advice but I like to express myself in comples sentences obliquely to reflect my thought, generally want to communicate to educated people can simplify for others. Thanks

    • “Wallpapers” comment is funny. He rants about how he is so great at following all the tips. Forgetting tip one is “Put the reader first.”

      These tips are spot on and useful. Another useful tip is “twitterizer” your ideas. Try saying an idea in 140 characters.

    • Martin says:

      I like the post. Very basic but the whole truth. Pretty simple and clearly though out.

      As a writer I also believe that simplicity is divine! However, it requires practice to master simplicity 🙂

    • Tricia says:

      Ah, hallo. Tell me something new sometime. These are practically all in Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style” and the most basic tips from my expository writing class. YAWN!!!

    • Great post!! I’m a newbie so I really appreciate this post. I want to be great so I’m studying the master and you are included in that group! thanx again!

    • This is an excellent and very helpful article.

      One thing I’d like to add is that words are easier to understand, and much more compelling to keep reading, if they flow in a natural speech rhythm.

      It’s a good idea to write as if you’re talking to a person, then read it back – aloud. If the rhythm of your words feels like a normal conversation, great. If it doesn’t, play around with the wording till it does.

      You’ll soon find that you start to do it naturally, and it’s a great way of making an article sound fresh and full of impact, instead of stilted and forgettable.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks very much. It is very true that using simpler words can be very beneficial. It is even more relevant today that paragraphs be shorter and straight to the point. Our attention spans are just getting shorter and shorter!

    • I think the main theme throughout all of these tips is to be aware of your target reader, it is so important to identify your audience before you start writing.

      I particularly agree with writing short sentences, this can really help to ensure your writing is clear and easy to understand.

    • Kat Eden says:

      @ Rebecca – George Bernard Shaw! Thank-you!

    • Helpful advice. I especially like the point about writing in a conversational tone. If I write something that wouldn’t sound good if I verbalized it to another human being, I always know to change it immediately.

    • 🙂 These tried and true tips have been effective for writers for many years. While not all writing must follow the rules, beginning writers should learn them. Knowing when to follow the rules and when to discard them is something that comes from experience. Start with the basics which is what you’ve done here.

      Now, care to offer up some advice and ideas that are your own? While these tips are fantastic and worth learning I’ve seen them many times before (including Strunk and White’s). Another element not mentioned is to say something only you can say! Share YOUR thoughts because I’d rather know what you think then reread the thoughts others have already shared.

      @Kat: Is it this one?
      “I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to make it shorter” – George Bernard Shaw

      or
      “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” – Blaise Pascal

      or
      “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” – Henry David Thoreau

      *grins* In fact, this blog entry (http://dangerousintersection.org/2006/04/12/more-time-shorter-letter/) shares even more alternatives that express the same meaning.

    • great advice! Does mind mapping helps organizing ideas?

    • Don Bates says:

      Gee, I wonder where the New Yorker or other great journals of thought and style would be if they had to follow these rules? Or the great essayists? Or great novelists? Or great poets? In a phrase, they wouldn’t exist.

      Strunk and White have their place but let’s keep their advice in perspective. They may be gospel to a lot of people but they are not the Holy Grail. Their rules are for journalists, PR people, copywriters and business writers generally. But they have almost no place in discussions of writing that goes beyond the ordinary, the predictable, the promotional. For those discussions, one has to dig deeper and read books like “The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing” (2005) by Ben Yagoda, and “English Prose Style” (1931, 1st ed.) by Herbert Read (out of print but available on Amazon and various online “used book” sites). These authors understand what great writing, literary and otherwise, is all about.

      Regarding the notion of writing in a conversational style, can anyone show me where this happens outside of movies and theater? It’s a silly rule. Stick with simple and direct if you must. Don’t write like you converse if you want to survive as a writer outside of films and plays. If you want proof, transcribe one of your conversations, then read it back. No, spare yourself the pain. Trust me, it isn’t pretty and certainly not as a standard for writing well.

      Strunk and White do have one great rule that boils down to write a lot and read a lot. Writing and reading go hand in hand. Unfortunately, too few of the younger generation read much and it is reflected in the general quality of their writing — slovenly, convoluted, imprecise and, worst of all, insincere. I don’t know a single great writer, inside or outside literature, who writes well that isn’t also a great reader.

      Keep up the debate but don’t neglect your writing. That’s the key to your success. Come to think of it, why are you reading this? Get writing!

    • janice says:

      Thanks, Dean. This advice is great for informative posts, but if you want to stir something in your reader – to co-create sensation – I’d also suggest listening to the rhythms of your own inner voice; mixing it up means #7 has a better chance to work.

      These are my favourite lines from Strunk and White:

      “…style is the writer, and therefore what you are, rather than what you know, will at last determine your style.”

      “Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one.”

      “No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader’s intelligence, or whose attitude is patronizing.”

    • Jackbid says:

      Excellent tips. Great comments too… Thanks a lot.

      Unfortunately for me, I still can’t write. My posts are childish and primitive compared to he pros. The main problem with me is getting ideas on what to write. Not enough ideas… So, I take a topic and start writing even though I have no idea what I’ll write…

      It all ends in a heap of trash. 🙁

      One thing.. I love this website. I had regularly read ZenHabits but I recently noticed this blog too.. It is very interesting and useful. Keep up the good work..

      Cheers! 🙂

    • Jackbid says:

      Excellent tips. Great comments too… Thanks a lot.

      Unfortunately for me, I still can’t write. My posts are childish and primitive compared to he pros. The main problem with me is getting ideas on what to write. Not enough ideas… So, I take a topic and start writing even though I have no idea what I’ll write…

      It all ends in a heap of trash. 🙁

      One thing.. I love this website. I had regularly read zenhabits.net but I recently noticed this blog too.. It is very interesting and useful. Keep up the good work..

      Cheers! 🙂

    • Kat Eden says:

      I guess I’m pretty much repeating what you’ve already said, but the most effective tool for me is to write conversationally. I try to lay my thoughts out as if I were explaining the topic to someone in person. In fact, I suspect that I probably do this far more effectively in writing than I would in speaking!

      Not only is this most definitely easier for the reader to follow, I think it plays a huge part in building rapport. A lot of people seem to think that you need to ‘show your knowledge’ (fancy words/detailed explanations) in order to establish yourself as an expert, but I think the opposite applies. It brings to mind a favorite quote (which I can’t remember fully) – something along the lines of only writing a long article when feeling too lazy to write a short one.

      Can anyone remember exactly what that quote is? I’d love to have it on record!

    • Zaki says:

      Hi Dean

      Thank you for writing this article. It is useful and short. I will definitely post on my desk board to refer to it the next time I write my articles. Well done. Keep on writing. I will keep reading them!

      Zaki

    • Zaki says:

      Hi Dean

      Thank you for writing this article. It is useful and short. I will definitely refer to it the next time I write my articles. Well done. Keep it up.

      Zaki

    • Well done… while reading, I was thinking wait a minute… 🙂 Elements of style is a must have! Also, check out another book called “On Writing Well.”

      -Mig

    • Clear and concise…..good.

      A couple of things:

      1. Acronyms — don’t use–even from one company to the next people do no know what you are talking about.

      2. Easy to remember length of paragraphs. People normally do not read beyond 4.5 lines.

      http://www.kathycondons.blogspot.com

    • Wallpapers says:

      Nice, I do all of those things. I think that I have hit this list right on the nose. Although, I think these tips would help my cousin so I’ll make sure to email these to him.

    • Having trouble writing your thoughts? Just write them as you would say them in a live conversation. The brain is a wonderful filter/organizer. Keep repeating the message (out loud if necessary) until it is as short and accurate as you can make it. The home process will become second nature if practiced vigilantly. Happy scribing!!!

    • GREAT advice! I studied English in college and I’m pretty sure most of what I learned about writing could be summed up in to these seven points. Thanks for sharing them with us!

    • Jasmine says:

      These are great tips, which I think every blogger (or writer in general) should keep in mind for clearer writing.

      These remind me of an essay by George Orwell, entitled “Politics and the English Language”, in which he describes ways writers use verbose and pretentious language to seem start but convey almost no meaning. Toward the end, he summarizes with a few rules, similar to your own.

      The whole essay can be read here: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

    • Carey says:

      Great tips and advice!

      Do adequate research and learn as much as you can about the subject matter you write.

      Love this blog!

    • Pace says:

      Great advice!

      I also like to keep a “hit list” of words to search for when editing and eliminate if possible. The top 4 words on my hit list are:

      – really
      – very
      – totally
      – awesome

      These words are overused, and I’ve found that removing them often strengthens the impact of the writing rather than weakening it. It’s really very totally awesome! (:

    • Dean,
      This is an excellent post. Not too long, and to the point – great resource and reference, will be using it for future reference. Thanks a lot!
      Anthony

    • Thanks for this useful post, but don’t forget storytelling. The best book for keeping me honest is On Writing Well by Zinsser. Just took it out this morning to re-read. I especially love chapter 15, about wrapping technical information in story.

      Mary


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