More Clarity, Less Clutter

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I’m a talker. When I’m excited, I yell. When I’m nervous, I ramble. When I’m frustrated, I rant. You get the picture. I’m always verbalizing my emotions, and I tend to heighten the dramatics of my current situation. Unfortunately, I often do this in my writing as well. I include unnecessary details, detracting from my main point. I never have a problem reaching the word count minimum, its that maximum that causes some anxiety.

Chapters 2 and 3, Simplicity and Clutter

Zinsser explains that many writers face this same challenge. He claims that the problem of clutter begins not with our writing, but with our thinking. I must think clearly before I can write clearly. To increase clarity in writing, Zinsser says writers must ask, “What am I trying to say?” (9). Surprisingly, we don’t have a precise picture of what we want to say and this translates to our writing in the colloquial phrases we add to sound more knowledgable.

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Simplicity comes with hard work, practice, and editing. Lots of editing. Usually, about half of a first draft can be cut without surrendering useful information (16). This percentage scares me because I have always been taught the more you have to say, the more you understand. Fortunately, Zinsser has dispelled some of these high school English class myths:

  • Myth #1: The number of pages in your paper corresponds with the grade you receive.
  • Myth #2: Increasing the length of a word increases your grade received.

Chapter 4, Style

Style follows simplicity. Zinsser defines two ways to achieve style: Be relaxed and be confident (19).  However, these are not easy tasks. Many young people do not become relaxed until halfway through their piece of writing, which reiterates the importance of editing. Society now makes us hesitant to reveal ourselves in our writing, so we shy away from individuality and stick with the safe route of an academic voice.

Chapters 6 and 7, Words and Usage

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To become a successful writer, we must carefully choose our words. Many of the “filler” words above hurt the writer’s credibility and clarity. Proper word choice, however, allows us to be both simple and clear. Word choice is a learned practice and specific strategies can help you choose correctly! Zinsser urges writers to make use of both dictionaries and thesauruses, but to be weary of trading in the plain word with a more embellished word (34). A final piece of advice is to read aloud the words you have written. This process aids in decluttering your writing and choosing the correct words. If it sounds funny when you say it, change it.

Until next blog,

Evan

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