Tuesday, July 05, 2011

How To Craft The Perfect Sentence, Part 21

by CWK

More on Clarity.

Here are some more suggestions for mastering the art of clarity.

1. Get yourself ‘clear.’

Unclear communication often begins with us. We really don’t know what we mean. As a result, our reader/listener doesn’t really know what we mean, either. The reverse is also true: if we understand what we are talking about, we can more readily help others understand what we are talking about.

C.S. Lewis advised, “Be sure you know the meaning (or meanings) of every word you use (See Letters of C.S. Lewis, 291-292).”

2. Take extra pains to improve clarity. Strive for clarity.

I say, ‘strive’ because this takes effort. Our reader/listener is all too apt to misunderstand us. More often than not, this is our fault.

Again, Lewis puts it best, “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 (See C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children, 63-65) .”

And, “Take great pains to be clear. Remember that though you start by knowing what you mean, the reader doesn't, and a single ill-chosen word may lead him to a total misunderstanding. In a story it is terribly easy just to forget that you have not told the reader something that he needs to know -- the whole picture is so clear in your own mind that you forget that it isn't the same in his (Letters of C.S. Lewis, 291-292).”

3. Strive For Simplicity

John Calvin famously said, “I always studied to be simple.”

To be able to reduce a complex truth into simple, clear, child-like language requires immense wisdom. It is a gift that only great teachers possess.

4. Anticipate

Anticipate areas of confusion/misunderstanding and respond to them. Here, you are taking the time to put yourself in your reader/hearer’s seat. This is a good exercise in general because it makes us think about the audience while we are writing.

Here are some areas to anticipate.

a. Anticipate Questions.

What might your audience have questions about?

b. Anticipate Objections.

What might your audience disagree with/object to?

Once we have anticipated objections, we can set out to answer them (assuming, of course, that we are in the right). This pays our audience the great compliment of respecting their reason.

c. Anticipate areas of confusion, misunderstanding.

Where is my audience likely to get lost? Be confused? Misunderstand what I am saying?

I had a professor who would often say, “Don’t hear what I am not saying.” Then, he would go on to tell us what he was not saying. There are, indeed, times when we need to state clearly what we are NOT saying so as to not be misunderstood.

If we are dealing with complex material, it may also be helpful to our audience for us to say, “I know this is confusing. Let me explain it like this...” This lets them know that we understand their dilemma, and we are trying to help.

5. Use Illustrations.

Relate your idea to something the reader is already familiar with. "It's like when you..."

Here, we make the connection between something our audience understands, and something they don’t understand. We use what they already know to illustrate what they don’t know. When using an illustration, the first thing to ask is, “What in my audience’s experience can I relate this to?”

“Often when didactic (plain teaching) speech fails to enlighten our hearers we may make them see our meaning by opening a window and letting in the pleasant light of analogy (Charles Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students, 349).”

No comments:

Post a Comment