Tip: If you are serious about knowing how to write clearly, then Denise and I highly recommend you try the popular editing software StyleWriter by Editor Software for $150. Click StyleWriter for details. Or, if $150 is too much for you right now, then an excellent middle range option is RightWriter for just $29.95.*
Here are some quick tips on how to write clearly through careful word choice.
- Use words in their precise sense. Avoid common English errors. For example, uninterested means bored, but disinterested means impartial; misinformation means accidentally false information, but disinformation means intentionally false information; apparent is different from evident; unnatural is different from supernatural; reverse is different from converse; and so on. To use words properly and precisely, you must develop your vocabulary.
- Don’t use the same word to mean different things. Edwin Abbott in How To Write Clearly gives this example: "It is in my power to refuse your request, and since I have power to do this, I may lawfully do it." Here, the author uses the second power for authority.
- Avoid words such as very and extremely. These words are unquantifiable and therefore lack clarity and precision.
- Avoid unneeded circumlocution. Do not use assist for help, individual for person, utilise for use, and so on.
- Take care with ambiguous words. For example, does contemporary mean now or then? Does certain mean some or definite? Does object mean aim or thing?
- Make sure the reader knows what it, he, they, these, and other pronouns refer to. If there is doubt, specify the noun to which the pronoun refers. Say It is in Oliver’s bag rather than It is in his bag.
- Avoid redundancies. For example, use with rather than along with or together with and use which rather than and which.
- Prefer the particular to the general. Say Alex has 3 brothers rather than Alex has several brothers; There has been a twofold increase rather than There has been a significant increase.
- Use people’s names rather than labels. Say Mrs White rather than The plaintiff; Ericka rather than The tourist; Catherine rather than The commuter.
- Explain what does or did happen rather than what does not or did not happen. For example, say Trevor forgot rather than Trevor did not remember; Your prose is unclear rather than Your prose is not clear. Make sure you especially avoid double negatives, such as Chris took a not unsympathetic view or Chris is not unintelligent.
- Choose your editing software wisely. Some editing software, such as the popular StyleWriter program by Editor Software, for $150, does a great job of helping you to write clearly. Another excellent editing program is RightWriter. RightWriter is almost as good as StyleWriter and costs only $29.95. Other software on the market, such as some software we have tried from Whitesmoke, can actually make your writing worse than before.