Website Wednesdays: Clarity

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When you write, you should aim to make your paper as easy to understand as possible. At an intellectual level, the writing process communicates your ideas. Doing so in a clear way makes it easier for readers to understand what it is that you are trying to say. At a practical level, clearer writing usually results in better grades. Students often run into trouble when a professor or grader cannot understand a section of the paper. Most of us have received comments such as “too wordy,” “I don’t understand,” or “huh?” at one point or another on papers. Improving clarity can help solve these problems.

The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers several tips to improve clarity in your writing. First, try to keep your sentences as short and simple as possible. Limit yourself to one idea per sentence. While it may be tempting to go to a thesaurus and attempt to use as many large words as you can, this often leads to wordy writing that clouds your meaning and makes it difficult for your reader (or grader) to understand what it is that you’re trying to say. Keep it short and simple!

You should also avoid passive voice in your writing. When you use passive voice, the subject of your sentence receives the action rather than performing it. Sentences written in the passive voice often contain a form of the verb “to be:” is, are, was, or were. Re-wording these sentences to use an action verb makes your writing more direct. The UW Writing Center website contains several excellent examples of how to do this. By making the subjects of your sentences perform actions and by reducing vagueness and wordiness, you can write in a clearer way and transmit your ideas more effectively.


Use your active voice,
-P
aul Burkart

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