Avoiding Confusing Sentences And Writing With Clarity

Sometimes a piece of writing can be technically perfect, but it’s missing one key thing: clarity.

It’s a skill to create clear writing that’s sharp, informative, and easy to understand, and it doesn’t always happen on the first try. Oddly enough, when you get feedback that your writing lacks clarity, it’s not always clear what that actually means. Sometimes it might mean there’s a structural issue with the piece. Other times, it may refer to your word choice or even simple errors with punctuation. Clearer writing is easy to achieve if you know what to look for, so here’s a quick guide to making your writing more concise every single time.

✏️ What is clarity in writing?

In writing, clarity refers to how easy it is to understand something. There are a number of factors that determine how easy or difficult it is to read a piece of writing. As a general rule, clear writing is characterized by:

  • Clear word choice.
  • Short, succinct sentences and paragraphs.
  • A direct thesis, topic, or main idea.
  • Attention to a specific audience.

Different kinds of writing call for different styles and guidelines. For example, a five-paragraph essay has different requirements than a news article or a cover letter. But no matter what kind of writing you’re doing, you can improve your clarity and make your work more compelling by following a few simple rules.

How to avoid confusing sentences and write with clarity

1. Choose the right words.

The “right” words typically aren’t the longest or most complex. They’re the words that most succinctly capture your meaning and will be most easily understood by your audience. This doesn’t mean you must shrink your vocabulary or write at a more elementary level than you’d like to. It only requires that your word choice reflects what is most accurate, even if that means using a shorter or simpler word.

Original: As a senior administrator, I made multifarious and abounding contributions to improve daily processes.
Correction: As a senior administrator, I made numerous contributions to improve daily processes.

2. Avoid jargon.

Many careers and academic specialties have their own language, including technical terms and abbreviations that laypeople may not understand. If you’re writing a casual email to colleagues who already know the language, that’s okay. But, in most other cases, avoid using jargon or technical language that isn’t widely understood. If you have to use it, define it within the text or include a footnote to avoid confusion.

Original: The success of your social media ad campaign depends on the CPC.
Correction: The success of your social media ad campaign depends on the cost per click (CPC), a metric that shows the total cost to advertisers based on the number of clicks received.

3. Use short sentences. 

Meaning gets lost when a sentence is too long, wordy, or complex. Instead, use short, simple sentences that are easier to read and understand. Break compound sentences into two separate sentences when necessary. Lastly, consider using transition words to help guide the reader.

Original: Although there are many ways to cook a grilled cheese sandwich, you should start by buttering two slices of bread with butter, but you can use mayonnaise if you prefer it.
Correction: There are many ways to cook a grilled cheese sandwich. First, butter two slices of bread. If preferred, mayonnaise can be used instead.

4. Divide information for easy reading.

Chapters, headers, indentions, and other divisions make a big difference in longform writing. A wall of text is not only intimidating to read, but can also result in the reader losing their place or getting confused. Depending on what you’re writing, use the appropriate divisions to break up your text and make the reading experience easier. This has the added bonus of drawing attention to the most important parts of your text.

Original: The symptoms of COVID may include cough, sore throat, fever, chills, and runny nose, so call your doctor if you notice these signs.
Correction: The symptoms of COVID may include:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Runny nose

Call your doctor if you notice these signs.

5. Use active voice.

In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action. In passive voice, the subject receives the action. Active writing improves clarity because it generally uses fewer words and moves at a faster pace. You can spot passive voice by looking for “be” verbs, like was and were, and places where the action comes before the subject. When you see these, try to rewrite the sentence in active voice.

Original: The problem was understood by her and her team was guided by her to look for a solution.
Correction: She understood the problem and guided her team to look for a solution.

6. Provide context, but only when necessary.

Sometimes readers need background information and additional details to understand something. The key is knowing when this information is necessary. Any details you add to your writing should relate to your topic or main idea and provide vital information. If it’s repetitive or irrelevant, it’s only creating more work for your reader.

Original: I received your email after lunch yesterday about the new paid leave policy, and I read it thoroughly, so I wanted to respond to your questions.
Correction: I received your email about the new paid leave policy. Here are the answers to your questions.

7. Know the rules.

There are times to be creative with grammar and structure. In creative writing, for example, it’s okay to play with style and punctuation when it enhances your poem or story. When you’re writing professionally or academically, though, it’s a good idea to stick to proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation for the utmost clarity.

Original: I have a question about Mark’s presentation from yesterday when he mentioned there’s a 10% reduction in productivity? Accurate?? Also. I wanted to say I really enjoyed it!
Correction: I enjoyed Mark’s presentation yesterday. He mentioned a 10% drop in productivity. Is that figure accurate?

And then there are times you can break the rules. Read about them here.

8. Make cuts.

It’s normal if your writing isn’t perfectly clear and accurate on the first try. Often, our ideas are wordy and confusing when we’re just starting to explain them. Once you have a draft, do an initial read-through in which the only focus is cutting filler words, extraneous info, and too-long sentences. This will identify sections where your reader may get confused so you can eliminate them.

Original: It goes without saying that our whole team is really invested in learning about and adopting all of the best practices of the new procedure.
Correction: Our team is invested in learning and implementing best practices for the new procedure.

9. Proofread.

Once you’ve cut unnecessary fluff from your writing, it’s time to proofread. This process entails carefully checking grammar, spelling, punctuation. The good news is that you don’t have to do this alone! Thesaurus.com’s Grammar Coach can help make corrections in real time. You can also use an online grammar guide, and even have a friend or colleague read the piece and note any mistakes. Remember: first drafts are for getting ideas out, but real clarity happens during the editing process.

Original: Now that I know, how to write with clarity, the whole writing process is so much more easy.
Correction: Now that I know how to write with clarity, the whole writing process is so much easier.

We understand—writing is tough work. That's why we have these helpful tips to improve your writing skills.

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