June 14, 2017

Anyone who has tried to read a legal document or a technical manual understands how jargon, clutter, numbers and acronyms can jumble together, undercutting meaning and frustrating even the avid reader.

Writers must avoid the trap of describing complex issues in complicated prose. Clarity starts with a clear understanding of the topic you are writing about. Here are some other strategies for turning complicated facts into clear language for your audience.

  • Without reference to your notes, tell another person what your story is about or imagine you are writing a message to a curious friend.
  • Slow down the pace of information. Use shorter words, shorter sentences and shorter paragraphs at the points of greatest complexity.
  • By analogy, describe something strange in terms of something familiar.
  • Translate jargon for the reader. This allows you to demonstrate your understanding of the material.
  • Lift the heaviest information into a chart or graph. Visual storytelling is just as critical as the words you choose.
  • Use as few numbers as possible and place them in context.
  • Alternate between what is important and what is interesting.

Taken from The Writer’s Workbench: 50 Tools You Can Use, a self-directed course by Roy Peter Clark at Poynter NewsU.

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
Vicki Krueger

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