Simple Phrasing Protects Clarity

By LaRocque, Paula | The Quill, May 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Simple Phrasing Protects Clarity


LaRocque, Paula, The Quill


Media writers are surer of the need for clarity in their work than they are of how to get it.

Part of the problem is that clarity makes demands not just of form, but of content as well. Making difficult or challenging content easy to grasp depends in part upon how well writers themselves think. Writing clearly means thinking clearly - it involves keen analysis, logic, creativity and precision as well as intellect. As George Orwell observed, fuzzy writing always reveals fuzzy thinking.

But say thinking is not a problem. Then all we must do is focus on form. How can we deliver the result of our careful thought? Which device or style will make our work clear, accurate, brief and compelling? If the form is dense and larded with difficult language, all our painstaking thought will be wasted.

For clarity, we need an open, informal, conversational style. Our schooling has taught us - wrongly, I think - to make a distinction between formal and informal communication, and that formal is superior to informal. The result is a professional world that spouts stiff, pompous, abstract and often meaningless jargon.

An effective but easy way to make difficult work clear is to use one-syllable words as much as possible. The result is neither over-simple nor without sophistication - conversely, wrapping the message in simple language yields both precision and warmth.

Proper nouns and words that can't be shortened without losing meaning are exempt from this effort, but simplifying even some of the language will make the message clearer and more compelling.

Here is the top of a wire story, followed by a short-word version.

Original:

"Energy Secretary Bill Richardson on Monday promised continued economic support for wind energy research and development and support for tax incentives in announcing a plan to increase the country's capacity to get power from wind.

"Richardson committed the government to have wind power produce 5 percent of the nation's electrical needs by 2020. Currently, about onetenth of one percent of the nation's electric needs are provided by the wind.

"'We want tomorrow's generators to produce power at half the cost of today's machines; Richardson said at a wind energy conference. 'That is no small challenge, but this government is committed to making that goal a reality.'

"In 1980 wind energy cost about 40 cents per kilowatt hour. Now it's about a nickel.

"In addition to the so-called Wind Powering America initiative, Richardson announced $1.2 million in grants to wind turbine testing projects in 10 states. One of those projects will be in Maine. He did not say where the other nine would be.

"The money will be used to provide support for the design and installation of new small wind turbines for field testing. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Simple Phrasing Protects Clarity
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.