Writing with clarity is important in all types of writing, but this is especially true for academic and technical writing. For these types of writing, the concept of clarity seems straightforward enough, but somehow it can be difficult to achieve. I struggled with this a lot in my first few years of college. I thought the connections between my thoughts were obvious because they were obvious to me.
Don’t make this mistake. Remember that your reader doesn’t know what’s going on inside your head, only what you’ve written on the page. When you are writing in an academic setting, you are generally trying to inform your readers or communicate information. You want your audience to have to do as little additional work as possible. They shouldn’t have to read a paragraph and think, “Now why did the writer include this?” They shouldn’t have to do the work of analyzing and synthesizing the information contained in the paper; you’ve already done that in the process of writing it.
The revision process is a good time to think about clarity. When you are revising, you already have your main points on paper in a way that makes sense to you, because you have the internal scaffolding of your writing process to support them. What you want to do is to take this mental scaffolding of connections and incorporate in into your paper.
The thesis statement is a good place to start. Once you’ve formulated a strong thesis statement (more on that here), you want to make sure that every paragraph has a clear relation back to the thesis. Transition statements are also important for clarity, because they tie paragraphs together and show the connections between your ideas.
It’s generally a good idea to have someone else read over your paper for clarity; another pair of eyes will catch possible confusion more easily that you can. Someone who’s completely unfamiliar with your paper will have the necessary distance to pick up on unclear connections or points that are inadequately explained.
Don’t worry about being too obvious in an academic essay: just come out and say it! Of course, that doesn’t mean you should belabor points that are common knowledge or repeat yourself as you strive for clarity.
Creative writers strive for clarity a bit differently than does a writer who is working on a research paper or an academic essay. In a poem or short story, you often don’t want to spell out every emotion that you want the reader to feel. Sometimes, leaving the reader in the dark about a character’s motivations adds drama and depth to the story.
In this case, the oft-quoted dictum “Show, don’t tell” can be helpful to keep in mind. Describe the details of a scene clearly enough, and chose words that have connotations that contribute to your overall effect–the readers will feel what you want them to feel. Approach your characters’ emotions and motivations with subtly and depth, allowing your readers to discover them much as they would discover the motivations and feelings of the people around them.
This can be difficult. Sometimes it seems that there is a fine line in creative writing between telling too much and not telling at all. Again, this is where reader feedback comes in. The writing center at my college allows students to bring in creative writing pieces, so if you have access to a college writing center, you may want to try this. Friends, family members, and classmates may also be willing to act as beta readers.
In all types of writing, the key to achieving the appropriate amount of clarity is to reread your work and revise, revise, revise! As you become more familiar with your readers’ needs, you will learn what you need to say and what you can communicate through allusion and hints.