Believe it or not, I graduated top of my class in the Preaching school I attended. I’m not a preacher, but the full-time college course I did almost 20 years ago has helped me tremendously, not only in my spiritual life, but also with my communication skills.
Over the years we studied the Bible in-depth, but this was only two-thirds of our teaching. As part of the course we learned to do missionary work in places we’d never been before, and we learned how to express ourselves with clarity. After all, if you’re a teacher or a preacher your work will mostly be made up of validating, encouraging, exhorting and convincing people. I’m going to show you in this article how you too can express yourself with the clarity of a great teacher/preacher. Get your gown on and let me hear an alleluia!
Let readers know your intention/what they’re going to learn
In preaching school you learn how to put together a fulfilling and convincing sermon. Basically, you tell your audience what you’re going to talk to them about (your introduction); then you tell them the thing you want to tell them (the body); then you re-iterate what you told them (your closing).
In order to do this you have to have one clear message in mind. Remember that if you’re not clear about what your lesson will be and what you want your audience to learn from it, you’ve lost them from your first word.
Keep your wandering about and off-topic examples for another article. Stick to your message until you get to the end of it. This is what writing with clarity is all about.
Stop beating around the bush with complex words and scenarios
If your audience has to figure out what your words mean they will lose focus on your next point. Of course, using fancy words can make a writer look intelligent, but it can also – on the flip side – make your audience feel stupid. This makes them fluster and without even knowing it, they tune out from your message – even for a moment.
You don’t want your message to be lost. Writing with clarity means that each of your carefully thought-out points will be digested by your audience. Understanding your intention should take no effort on the part of your reader.
Write well, but use simple words that mean what they say – words that your audience doesn’t have to look up the meaning of.
Use stories to illustrate your point if a concept is difficult to understand
Not everything will be easy to explain. As a matter of fact, depending on your niche, some concepts may be pretty difficult to understand when you’re talking to a person who is learning from scratch. I know you’ll all agree with me here.
Some things can be very easy for you because you’ve done them every day of your life. When it comes to explaining that particular thing to someone who’s never done it, it can be the hardest thing you’ve done. For example, how do you explain how emailing works to someone who’s never heard of it? You send mail from one part of the world on a computer and someone 5,000 miles away can receive this mail instantly. Is that black magic or voodoo? How do you do such a thing?
Even Jesus used stories to illustrate the heavenly concepts he knew earthly men with earthly thought patterns and earthly limitations would have trouble understanding. These ‘stories’ are known as parables. We can follow his example and use ‘parables’ of our own.
Find ways to illustrate your more difficult points with real-time stories and examples.
Know your audience
Knowing your audience is the key to writing with clarity. You’ll know how to address them, what approach to take, what sort of examples to use etc. For example, I’ve read Oni’s blog for a long time and know that none of the people who leave comments here have ever professed to being atheists. This is why I feel comfortable using the preaching analogy when it comes to expressing yourself and writing with clarity.
(Of course, I could be wrong about this because I don’t know Oni’s audience as well as he does).
Is your audience made up of college grads, housewives? Are they journalists looking for formal information? Are they bloggers informally searching for cute stories or information training? If you know who they are and what they’re after, you can express yourself with clarity because you’ll be able to target their needs precisely.
Stop undermining yourself
I read a lot of valid blogs with equally valid information. However, many of these bloggers undermine their clarity of expression because of their laziness when it comes to editing. A comma in the wrong place can totally change your meaning. A misspelling of a homonym (words that sound the same – e.g plain and plane) can wipe out the meaning of an entire paragraph. In an instant you can lose credibility and clarity. It’s not okay to write ‘your’ when you mean ‘you’re’ and it’s definitely doesn’t make your sentence clear when you write ‘its’ for ‘it’s’. Edit your work for added clarity and make sure you’re saying what you actually mean.
A good preacher/teacher does not use jargon with his audience. If he uses a term they don’t understand, whatever he follows up that term with is lost on them. This injures his entire message because a part of it (maybe a critical part) has gone over the heads of his audience.
You don’t want this with your writing. If you use abbreviations, explain them. If you have to use jargon (words or terms that are frequently used in your profession or business, but which aren’t really understood by the average individual) make sure you explain what they mean. Sometimes jargon can make teachers feel important because they have ‘inside’ information other people can’t understand. However, jargon does nothing for clarity.
Always be concise
Basically, say what you mean. Don’t beat about the bush when explaining. Get in there, get active, and get out again. Use small words that everyone understands, use the exact word you mean and avoid long, complicated sentences. Read though your work and replace the long unclear sentences with shorter ones. If you, the writer has to read a sentence twice to get the meaning, it needs to be changed. Above all, don’t use words that are easily misunderstood. A preacher, when talking about a male chicken will always use the word rooster as opposed to its other name. For clarity, choose the right words to avoid misunderstanding.
That’s my sermon complete. What other elements do you use for writing with clarity? Have you got any additional advice for us and the audience of this blog? Please share ‘How To Write With Clarity’ on your social networking sites. Thank you.
Anne Lyken-Garner is a published author and prolific blogger. She works as a website editor and is also a team member of ‘Writers In Charge’. See how you can hire Anne to edit your blog at this page.