Write CLEAR Sentences

In my last round of edits, right before I publish an article, I have one focus: writing CLEAR sentences.

The acronym CLEAR stands for: 

  • Create a rhythm

  • Link your sentences

  • Eliminate anything that adds confusion

  • Add colorful details

  • Remove unnecessary details

I’ll describe each in turn.

Create a Rhythm: Great writing has rhythm. It’s like a dance, and words are the music that create the atmosphere. The easiest way to add rhythm to your writing is to vary sentence length. Short sentences speed things up, and long sentences slooooooowwwwww things down. 

Here’s how Gary Provost described it:

 


CLEAR.jpg

 

Link Your Sentences: Every sentence should follow from the one before it, lead into the one after it, and connect with the paragraph’s topic sentence. 

Eliminate Anything That Adds Confusion: Read your writing out-loud, and mark the places where you stumble. It’ll usually happen because of an unnecessarily big word or a sentence with irregular syntax. Wait to make edits as you read. Read a few paragraphs at a time and bold the parts that cause you to stumble. That way, you can get into the same flow your reader will experience when they enjoy your work. Then, edit your writing in sections. 

Add Colorful Details: Sol Stein once wrote: “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” That feeling is revealed through detail. Make your reader feel the puddle of water in your shoes, the frustration of having your umbrella flip upside down during a thunderstorm, or the way wet clothes hug your body so tightly that you waddle like a penguin. 

Remove Unnecessary Details: Good writing packs a tremendous amount of information in a small number of words. Tactically, start by removing intensifying words like “very” or “extremely.” As crutches of the English language, they reveal weaknesses in your prose. Then remove words that don’t move your argument forward. Sometimes, I pretend I’m hiring a translator. Most of them charge 10 cents per word, so you can save money by deleting superfluous. But the trick also inspires clarity. As Derek Sivers wrote: “If you can communicate the same idea with fewer words, it’s more likely to be read and understood. A sentence that’s easier to translate is also easier to understand.” 

The implicit message of my CLEAR Sentences framework is that you’ll delete most of what you write. Emotionally, it’s painful but your readers will thank you for it. You know you’ve made the necessary edits when your reader thinks they could’ve written what you published so aim to make writing look so easy that you inspire them to copy you. Only then will they feel the weight of your accomplishment.


Cover Photo by Bibi Pace on Unsplash

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