5 Tips on Clarity for Writers


Let’s return to the concept of rhythm, mentioned earlier. Rhythm is one of the basic patterns which readers are seeking. Just as in your introductory paragraph you can either pull the reader in or push them away, so you can use this “push-pull” rhythm throughout your work in a very sophisticated way. All great authors do this, from Hemingway to Tolkien, from Shakespeare to the Beowulf poet: back and forth, strength and weakness, horror and comedy, emphasis and non-emphasis, long sentences, short sentences, from the level of words all the way up to the work as a whole.

The subject of rhythm is worth a book in itself. In fact, the principle which lies behind rhythm is explained at length in the book How Stories Really Work.

If you create a strong sense of rhythm and emphasis in your work, starting at a word level, progressing up through a sentence level and then within paragraphs, you will keep a firm grip on your reader’s “hand” throughout the work. Contrast creates rhythm - stark contrast increases pace, subtle contrast decreases pace, ridiculous contrast creates humour, expected contrast creates seriousness.

1. "Choppiness" is the effect of multiple short sentences in a row giving a sense of breathlessness. Multiple, successive elongated sentences one after another gives a sense of never-ending, oxygen-starved snobbery. A short sentence can be a good option for the content you're writing, just as a long one can as well. The answer? Mix them up so that you have some short sentences and some long alternating with each other. This variety will give even more rhythm to your prose.

Create rhythms on every level.

2. Another way to produce effective work is to look over your sentences and pretend that a child will be reading your text. You don't want your reader to struggle to follow your ideas. Keep your meaning simple and easy to understand. It sounds obvious, but revise your sentences one by one to make them friendlier, clearer, more straightforward.

Clarity has a great deal to do with grammar. Unfortunately, as we will see, grammar is crucial.

3. If you are a student, as you edit the grammar of your essay or story, you should particularly focus on the grammar concepts that your teacher has previously marked in your work. Many students receive their work back from the teacher with many notes and advice written all over it to help them specifically to improve -but they just look at the overall mark they’ve been given and don’t even bother to read the advice! The teacher has probably pinpointed exactly what you need to fix. Pay your teacher the courtesy of reading what has been written and try 1to see how it applies to your work. It’s more likely than not tailor-made to your situation.

It’s sounds obvious to say “Be sure that your essay is grammatically correct”. But there’s a principle at work here:

A teacher is more likely to decrease your grade if he or she is able to justify the decrease because your grammar is wrong. A reader of fiction will devalue your work much more sharply if errors of that kind are found.

Though academic guidelines often officially forbid it, teachers unconsciously drop your grade if they see grammatical errors mounting up. Teachers and examiners are human beings too. Error after error in a piece of work makes it difficult to see through the fog of mistakes to give you a good mark, and in the minds of many teachers, perfect grammar equals a perfect essay. It might seem unfair, but that’s the way the system is at present.

Personally, I’d rather have a piece of work with some errors but exciting ideas and valuable insights rather than a perfectly presented essay or story with no “zing” or new connections. I’ve seen too many essays that are flawless grammatically but are hollow intellectually. But grammar IS significant and cannot be ignored.

Proofread your essay or story a dozen times b