Home The Art of Communicating How to Write Clearly – The 10 Most Important Principles

How to Write Clearly – The 10 Most Important Principles



  1. Use Short Sentences. An average of 10 to 20 words a sentence is acceptable nowadays. Long sentences are tiring and in most cases they can be shortened by throwing out unnecessary words.
  2. Prefer the Simple to the Complex. The Englishman, H. W. Fowler and his brother in their famous book ‘The King’s English’, put it best: “Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched. Prefer the concrete word to the abstract. Prefer the single word to the circumlocution. Prefer the short word to the long. Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.”
  3. Prefer the Familiar Word. Most people’s conversation is limited to about 3000 words. Well educated people probably know about 20 to 30 thousand words. It all depends on whom you are writing for. Common words will be understood by everybody and virtually any idea can be expressed with a vocabulary of only 3000 words. Avoid using unfamiliar words simply to impress or force a reader to go to the dictionary (they won’t).
  4. Avoid Unnecessary Words. Imagine there is a tax payable on words used. Think about every word, “Can it be cut”. Writing gains clarity when it is concise.
  5. Use Action Verbs. “He drove very fast down the road.” Much better is, He sped down the road”. The words ‘very fast’ are adjectives used to strengthen the word ‘drove’. ‘Sped’, or perhaps, ‘raced’, is better because of reader psychology. People prefer facts to opinions. ‘Sped’ is a fact, ‘very fast’ is an opinion.
  6. Write as you Talk. The written word is a substitute for the spoken word. The habit of writing as though you were speaking almost always leads to clearer writing. Just cut out the ‘ums’ and ‘er’s’ and the repetitions that usually come into the spoken word.
  7. Use Terms your Reader Can Picture. Or, avoid abstract words wherever possible. Aesop’s Fables have been read for thousands of years because he turned abstractions like greed, envy, anger into stories that could be pictured. Jesus did this also with his parables.
  8. Connect with your Reader’s Experience. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes otherwise he or she might understand your words but misunderstand your meaning. The reader could have a different ground from the writer. A good example is in politics where people from one nation talking about aggression can seem like hypocrites to the other nation because of preconceptions about who is the aggressor in each side’s point of view.
  9. Use Variety. Most prose, even if the subject is serious, can contain some humor, some surprise, maybe some personal injection. Avoid monotonous flat prose.
  10. Write to Express not Impress. It is still all too often the case that people resort to unfamiliar, long words and meandering prose, especially when making formal announcements. Policemen say, “the thief was apprehended”, not, “We caught the thief”. Notices say, “Please refrain from smoking”, rather than, “Please do not smoke”. Nobody actually uses the word ‘refrain’ in normal conversation so why use it in a notice? It is done to sound important, make the notice sound official, done to impress, not express.


Source by Joseph Kerrigan



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here