Four steps for avoiding the pitfalls we face while writing with clarity and brevity

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by Precarious Yates

The secret to good writing is to write with both brevity and clarity. Along the road to this combination are a number of pitfalls to avoid. At the same time, there are myriad ways to achieve the goal.

This clarity and brevity combo doesn’t mean that everything has to sound the same. There are so many ways to say the same thing, and to tell the same sort of story, and that opens the door for thousands of writers. How many love a retold fairytale? That genre is very popular these days!

Four pitfalls and how to overcome them:

  • Using the same word, or words, too often, or not enough. With my first novel, I overused the word “that”. In the final phase of editing, I did a “search and find” for this particular weasel word. In my zeal to remove “that”, I removed too many. While achieving brevity, I sacrificed clarity. Oops! Even those weasel words have their place, it’s just knowing when and where.
  • Using vernacular that your group is familiar with restricts the audience to just your group. This can be a wide group, such a Evangelical Christians. Many of us know the term “Christianese” and many of the words and phrases used there. What’s nice about this kind of “short hand” speech, or writing, is that you can explore depths and details of a subject with brevity. The pitfall, which isn’t always a pitfall, is the fact that your audience will be limited. If you’re writing about general relativity, and your essay is filled with words that are shorthand for university science communities, you probably don’t want to send it to a magazine that sells in supermarket checkout lines. To achieve the widest audience, write as clear as you can for the lower denominator of your intended audience .
  • Then there is the question of eloquence. We can write monosyllabic-filled sentences, but those are tedious to read after a while. Equally tedious is slogging through pages and pages of fanciful prose. I can’t tell you how many times I sank into this pit! I love writing fanciful prose, but I often kept it in books at the expense of the reader. These days, I keep the fancy stuff for the journal and concentrate on clarity for the reader’s sake. Long-winded clarity can sometimes bring confusion.
  • This, that, and the other thing. I love (I hope you can see my eye-roll) when I’m driving in the car and my kid says, “Mom, did you see that?” “What?” I ask. “That.” This story gives a clear picture on how brevity can hinder clarity. While most may rightly assume what “that” is in reference to, some may misconstrue the meaning.

    When we leave readers in the dust, they begin to accumulate, leaving one star reviews in their wake. And we don’t want to lose readers! They come to the words of writers to understand themselves and their world better. They want to achieve understanding faster. Clarity and brevity in good proportions help us reach readers with the valuable stories and ideas we have to share.

About the Author:

Precarious YatesPrecarious Yates has lived in 8 different states of the Union and 3 different countries, but currently lives in Texas with her husband, her daughter and their big dogs. When she’s not writing, she enjoys music, teaching, playing on jungle gyms, praying and reading. She holds a Masters in the art of making tea and coffee and a PhD in Slinky® disentangling.


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