How clear is clearly?

Today I dedicate my post to a habit I had (maybe sometimes still have)… and I am clearly not alone.

This time round I did it by design, to make a point. May I ask how clearly am I not alone? Is it clear at all to you? Probably not, in fact, many people might not have picked up what I am talking about at all! And that is by my doing, not yours.

My rambling for this Writing Wednesday is about the word “clearly”. Only use it when something is really, really, really clear. And I want to contend that it happens very, very, very seldom. Why is that?

Writers experience the curse of knowledge, they know what they want to write, they know what they want people to see. However, fact of the matter is that their readers don’t have this knowledge at their disposal. More often than not your reader will not see what you see – you need to make him/her see, not expect that they will see the same as you.

I end with an example: “Figure 6.1 clearly shows the influence of A on B” says exactly the same as “Figure 6.1 shows the influence of A on B”, but even that is inaccurate and can be confusing. Unless Figure 6.1 is a formal diagram with generally accepted semantics, you must lead the reader to look at what you see. Maybe: “Figure 6.1 shows the influence of A on B through the arrow labeled X.”

So my plea to you:

  • consider every word you read, and
  • put yourself in the reader’s shoe.

Do you have other example of superfluous words you use sometimes? Write them in the comments. Acknowledging them is the first step in getting rid of a bad habit.


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