Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Let's Be Clear About Clarity

by CWK

Clarity is a sine qua non of good writing. You don't know what sine qua non means? See my point?
The benefits of clarity are many. I'll mention one. Clear writing is easier to read. Thus, it reads quickly. Thus, a reader is less likely to be wearied because they don't have to read sentences over several times. 

Clarity makes for good writing, but it is basic to all good communication. It is the skill of communicating with:

1) Precision: you say exactly what you want to say
2) Integrity: you say what you want to say in a way that is genuine, not just in word, but heart. Clarity of heart comes before clarity or word. From the heart flows either good or evil: clarity or depravity. Jesus taught us something critical about writing when he said, "From within, evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person." One of my profs referred to this as "clarity of heart."
3) Comprehensibility: you say what you want to say in a way that actually communicates what you want to say. You make it easy for your reader to follow you.

So, how might we strive to be clear? First, take it upon yourself to communicate clearly. It is not your reader's job to understand your garbled sentences. It is your job to communicate in an understandable way. Clarity is an act of love. It is an act of compassion. It's a way of caring for you reader, and making their lives easier. Therefore, assume that your reader does not understand you. Imagine yourself as a sheep herder, and your reader as a lost lamb. It is your job to shepherd your reader to clarity.

"Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn't mean anything else."
-C.S. Lewis

"And how is clarity to be achieved? Mainly by taking trouble and by writing to serve people rather than to impress them."
-F.L. Lucas

"Anything well written with good language and clarity and honesty is worth doing. It comes out of the same tradition as Shakespeare."
-Michael Moriarty

"Clarity, clarity, surely clarity is the most beautiful thing in the world: limited, limiting clarity. I have not, and never did have, any motive of poetry but to achieve clarity."
-George Oppen

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