Clarity: Concise, Lucid, Uncluttered
Does the reader get a clear and unobstructed pathway to your ideas?
You need an efficient way to remove clarity stumbling blocks.
You want to optimize your reader’s understanding without turning your writing into a choppy, dull, and boring read.
Here are the 3 most useful things to work with. Many other problems fall by the wayside when you pay attention to the big 3.
The Big Three
Readers digest information best in chunks placed in a familiar order. Chunking the subject, verb, and object close together, in that order, and at the beginning of the sentence, plants the most important information quickly and firmly in the reader's mind.
When you edit your sentences for SVO you will often find long, complicated sentences become two or more shorter, punchier ones. And your SVO edits simultaneously help with wordiness by clearing out passive voice phrases and nominalizations.
1st SVO Warm-Up
Highlight the main Subject, Verb, and Object in each sentence with the coloured highlighter. If you change your mind, use the white eraser. (1) Look for the verb that conveys the primary action (2) Find the person or thing that is doing the action (3) Find the person or thing that receives the action. Highlight all the verbs in the sentence; then look for the verb that tells you the main action.
In Sanders v Clare, the defendant, by rejecting the expert's advice to repair the hazard, thus eliminating the opportunity to minimize the damage to her own property and the consequential damage to her neighbour's property, decided to ignore the dangling tree branches. In our case, the defendant, instead of repairing an obvious and dangerous situation and warning her neighbour of the possible, and, in fact, imminent risk of harm, decided, because of her tendency to avoid dealing with difficult matters in the absence of her son who was away on a business trip, to ignore the overhanging icicles until it was too late.
In Sanders v Clare, the defendant, by rejecting the expert's advice to repair the hazard, thus eliminating the opportunity to minimize the damage to her own property and the consequential damage to her neighbour's property, decided to ignore the dangling tree branches.
In our case, the defendant, instead of repairing an obvious and dangerous situation and warning her neighbour of the possible, and, in fact, imminent risk of harm, decided, because of her tendency to avoid dealing with difficult matters in the absence of her son who was away on a business trip, to ignore the overhanging icicles until it was too late.
Rewrite the sentences that need improvement
In Sanders v Clare, the defendant failed to minimize the damage to her own and her neighbour's property when she rejected the expert's advice to repair the hazard immediately.
In our case, the defendant ignored the overhanging icicles. She also failed to warn her neighbour of the imminent harm. Because she often avoided dealing with difficult matters when her son was away, she ignored the overhanging icicles until it was too late.
2nd SVO Warm-up – Let's Pay Attention to Sentence Flow
Sometimes breaking long complex sentences up into shorter ones creates a choppy paragraph. The next SVO warm-up lets you experiment with sentence structure and length.
Here is a sentence that we realized had too many words separating the subject and verb.
Ms. Elliot's lack of legitimate reasons to look at Mr. Taylor's banking information, in violation of the Metropolitan Bank Code of Business Conduct and Ethics and her professional responsibility, caused her to confess when confronted.
You can correct complicated sentences like this one in more than one way. First, try rewriting the sentence by breaking it up into shorter sentences. Then, craft a longer sentence with a tighter SVO. See which one you prefer.
Option 1: Rewrite the sentence breaking it up into shorter sentences
Metropolitan Bank confronted Ms. Elliot about her wrongdoing.She admitted that she had looked at Mr. Taylor's banking information. She also confessed she had no legitimate reason for viewing the information. She added that she understood it was contrary to Metropolitan Bank's Code of Business Conduct and Ethics and her professional responsibility.
Option 2: Now try rewriting your sentence as one long sentence with tighter SVO and good flow
When confronted by Metropolitan Bank, Ms. Elliot admitted that she had looked at Mr. Taylor's banking information, that she had no legitimate reason for viewing the information, and that she understood it was contrary to Metropolitan Bank's Code of Business Conduct and Ethics and her professional responsibility.
Most people prefer option 2 even though it is a longer sentence. Why is that? Too many short sentences, one right after the other, create a jarring, stop-and-go effect that can tire the reader out. Longer sentences that pay attention to SVO add good variety to your writing.
Warm-Up 2: Breaking the Wordiness Habit
Word clutter comes in many shapes and sizes. There is content clutter and verbiage clutter. The type of clutter doesn't matter; the effect is the same. Your reader works too hard to get your message.
How long should your sentences be? Don't worry; there is no hard and fast rule. Communication experts note that an average reader can hold between 20 and 35 words in working memory. So keep this in mind as you declutter.
Here is a sentence from a legal memo analyzing whether a legal action was started on time. Dates are a key element.
Edit this sentence to eliminate minor or irrelevant content that distracts from the main message
On January 12, 2010, Albert hired Superior Builders Inc. to renovate his basement.
Now let's look at verbiage clutter that tires the reader out and buries your key points.
Here are two terms from a national law firm's confidentiality agreement with lots of editing potential. We didn't make these terms up!
Start by asking yourself, "What is the writer's main message?"
Then locate the words and phrases you would edit.
Type your editing ideas in the space provided and then compare them with the senior lawyer's redraft in the video below.
3.1 Either party may terminate this Agreement by notice in writing to the other party. All sections of this Agreement relating to the rights and obligations of the parties concerning Confidential Information disclosed during the term of the Agreement and such other provisions as may reasonably be expected to remain in force shall survive any such termination.
4.2 Supplier at all times, and from time to time, and upon reasonable written request to do so, shall make, do, execute, deliver or cause to be made, done, executed and delivered all such further acts, deeds, assurances and things as may be required for more effectually implementing and carrying out the true intent and meaning of this Agreement.
3rd Warm-up – Misplaced Modifiers
Misplaced modifiers and poorly placed pronouns can be funny because they rely on ambiguity for humour. But ambiguity has no place in legal writing.
To avoid ambiguity keep modifying phrases close to the nouns, verbs, and pronouns that they modify, and pronouns close to the nouns that they replace. Repeat key nouns or specific terms if using pronouns could create confusion.
Here are 3 ambiguous sentences from legal documents.
Rewrite the sentences to eliminate potential confusion. You may need to break the sentences up. And why not try to declutter the sentences at the same time?
Then compare your rewrite with ours.
The first sentence is from a letter advising a plaintiff about starting a negligence action. Check out the modifiers.
Hint: Who was supposed to act in a reasonably prudent way?
The court expects you to take reasonably prudent steps to prove that the other party caused the damage.
The second sentence is from court documents describing the evidence in a criminal case. Check out the nouns and pronouns.
Hint: Who will the judge think was holding the gun?
Brad Simon, the prosecutor's key witness, said that the accused was brandishing a gun during the robbery.
The third sentence is from an internal memo in a prosecutor's office. Check out the modifiers.
Hint: What happened this morning – the arrest or the incidents? Did this accused have a really busy morning?
The Overall Approach:
|Pick Your Clarity Challenge||Keep the Big Picture in Mind||and Have Fun.|
|Clarity edits are personal. You may already have writing habits that avoid passive voice and nominalizations. Instead, your Achilles heel might be empty and bulky words and phrases. So the first strategy is to home in on your particular clarity challenge.||Clarity edits must fit with context, audience, and purpose (CAP). Each word change must fit with the what, who, and why of your text. So, when you edit for clarity, keep the big picture in mind and ask, “How will this change fit with CAP?”||Clarity edits can be fun, intellectual challenges. Every time you take the time to do a clarity edit, you are building up good writing habits, which will make it easier and faster the next time you write. So the final strategy is to relax and enjoy jettisoning pompous legalese, flipping sentences from passive to active voice, and unearthing the best word for your context, audience, and purpose.|
Try some of our student's favourite techniques.
Add the techniques you like to your own personal editing checklist.