How To Write Clear Sentences

It sounds like obvious advice, but nonetheless it needs saying: make sure your sentences actually say what you think they say. Don’t let the reader guess, doubt or wonder about your intentions. That is the message of this excellent article from Verlyn Klinkenbory, a member of The New York Times Editorial Board.  Except he puts it somewhat better than me:

“Be alert for ambiguities of every kind. Become a connoisseur of ambiguity. Sentences are wily and multifarious, secretive, mischievous. Language is inherently playful, eager to make nonsense and no-sense if it gets out of order. Inexperienced writers tend to trust that sentences will generally turn out all right — or all right enough. Experienced writers know that every good sentence is retrieved by will from the forces of chaos.”

He is talking about writing in general, but his advicce is arguably most important for academic writing, where precision is paramount.  Heck, in the medical sciences ambiguity could conceivably lead to a fatality. Although, a much more likely result for students  is consistently  poor grades.

If you find the article interesting, you might be interested in buying Klinkenbory’s book informatively titled – “Several Short Sentences About Writing”.