How to ensure clear communication in writing

Tuesday, October 30, 2018
by Simon Van Hoeve
A boy looking at interconnected arrows leading to different endpoints in confusion.

Imagine opening up your local newspaper one day to find the headline: ‘Police Begin Campaign to Run Jaywalkers Down’. What does this mean? Are the police going to run over jaywalkers, or are they just launching a new program to attempt to solve the jaywalking problem? While it probably means the latter, the above example is a classic case of unclear communication in writing.

Unfortunately, way too many people struggle with clarity. But there are things you can do to avoid these mistakes! Here are a few tips I’ve found which can improve your clarity in writing.

1.) Keep your sentences concise

I’ll admit it, I often fall into this trap. However, in most situations, using extra words and phrases in your writing just makes it more confusing to the reader. There are 3 general things to look out for when editing for conciseness: cutting unnecessary words, cutting unnecessary repetition, and finally, simplifying sentences (when possible). You can find out more about these tips on the Writing Centre’s Writing Concisely resource!

2.) Make sure you’re using the right terms

When you’re writing or talking about something, you need to make sure you use terms both you and your audience know. If you’re not sure they know that term, then explain the term or use a term they would know. For example, if I am writing about an uncommon law term (such as the Alford Plea), I would need to specify what it means.

3.) Know your audience

You should always tailor your writing to your audience. For instance, the tone and manner in which I write this blog (aimed at university students) is dramatically different than how I would write a university essay (aimed at my academic peers and professors).

4.) Get someone to review your work

This may seem simple, but oftentimes, you’re so focused on actually writing your paper or assignment that you ignore some obvious clarity errors. After all, something that makes sense to you might not make sense to someone else. So, ask a friend to review your work – they’ll likely find issues of clarity you yourself didn’t pick up on. I got several of my friends to review this blog before posting it, and without their help, I would not have been as clear as I am now.