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Is Your Writing Clear?

Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace 12th Edition – An Online Book Study


Writing should be clear. The other option is for writing to be unclear.

The reason we want to be clear is that our writing is not for us. It does not exist to make us feel happy. It can bring us joy. But, the primary reason for our writing is to serve others. Our writing exists to entertain, inspire, help, teach, and encourage. We can offer guidance, wisdom, insight, and other valuable information. Writing can bring humor, joy, and light into people’s lives.

If our writing is confusing, we probably won’t accomplish any of those things. We may only give readers a headache. So, most of us can agree that we want our writing to be clear to the people we are serving.

The question is, how do we get there?

In my book, Calling All Writers! A Small Group Curriculum For Christian Writers, I make the case that simple is best. To be more precise, clear is best. I just happen to believe that using simple, direct statements is the easiest way to be clear. That’s especially true for writers who are thinking about the issue of clarity for the first time.

Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (12th Edition) appears to make the same case about simplicity. However, there are quite a few other principles we can employ to achieve greater clarity in our writing. These principles are outlined in the book. Style is widely considered to be a classic on the topic of clarity in writing.

So, by studying this book, I hope to achieve greater clarity on how to achieve greater clarity. I hope to help you do the same.

This post is meant to introduce the book and group study.

Please click here to join the Called Writers Facebook group, if you would like to study this book with us.

Here is my review of the first chapter.

Lesson One: Understanding Style

By the time I got to the second page of this book, I knew I had made an excellent reading choice.

The authors urge us to put readers above ourselves. Instead of writing what makes sense to us, we should strive to write what will make sense to others. Here is how the authors put it:

“None of us can judge our own writing as others will because when we read it, we respond less to the words on the page or screen than to the thoughts in our minds. We see what we thought we said…”[1]

The lesson one chapter argues that unclear writing is a widespread problem in English speaking societies. The authors claim that such writing pervades academic, scientific, legal, medical, and literary circles. The problem of vague and unnecessarily complicated writing is depicted as a plague on society. In one humorous quote about language meant to be confusing only to the uninitiated, a New York Times columnist argues that lawyers and judges are “discovering that sometimes they cannot even understand each other.”[2]

The authors make the case that there are several reasons for this undesirable social ill:

1. Writers are careless.

2. Writers are purposefully vague and unclear. This might be common in certain professions.

3. Writers are taught that good writing is complex and difficult to understand. This leads to a self-perpetuating cycle.

4. Writers are seeking to impress others. They believe that complicated sentences indicate deep thought.

5. Writers don’t understand their topic well enough. We tend to overcomplicate what we don’t understand.

6. Writers are trying too hard to follow grammar rules that the average person is not even aware of.

But, the main reason most of us produce unclear writing is:

We are under the delusion that our writing is already clear.

That’s my paraphrase. The authors actually state it this way, “We don’t know when readers will think we are unclear, much less why.”[3]

I want my writing to be clear so that it better serves my readers. That’s why I’m exploring and studying this book.

This is my first time reading the book, so you are getting a completely fresh perspective on its contents. I want your perspective too. Let’s learn together.

Do you need a Christian book editor? If so, just click on the previous link and let us see how we can help. Don’t go out into the marketplace alone!

[1] Williams, Joseph M. and Bizup, Joseph. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace Twelfth Edition. Pearson, 2017, p.3.

[2] Goldstein, Tom. “Lawyers Now Confuse Even the Same Aforementioned.” New York Times, 1 April 1977, p. 23.

[3] Williams, Joseph M. and Bizup, Joseph. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace Twelfth Edition. Pearson, 2017, p.7.

Chris McKinney

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