Checklist for Clear Writing

November 9, 2017

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you’re responsible for how well your reader understands what you’re saying. No two people see things exactly the same way because everyone uses filters that are unique to each of them when processing information. For example, my experience may show me snow is something to avoid driving in while someone else’s experience may show snow is a great opportunity for play. Thus, if I write about anticipating a snowstorm, my intent may be to show the reader dread but the reader may see fun.

Here’s a checklist to help make your writing more clear for your reader.

  • Verbs. Choose words that express your exact meaning. Consider the image your reader gets if your character runs versus jogs versus sprints versus scampers. Choose the verb that shows the reader what you mean.
  • Nouns. Again, decide the image you want your reader to see. There’s a difference between a house and a split-level or an apartment or a ranch-style or a mansion. Choose the noun that shows where your character lives or is visiting.
  • Adjectives/adverbs. I combine these because they are both used to modify other words. Consider involving as many of the five senses in your descriptions as possible. For example, a dark, cold, smelly, underground room is easier to see than a basement.
  • Synonyms. While synonyms may basically mean the same thing, there are connotations (additional meanings) possible with similar terms. For example, delicious, yummy, scrumptious, and good are considered synonyms, but the images for each can differ in readers’ minds.
  • Cliches. These are tired expressions that don’t belong in any good writer’s work. Examples are “dead as a door nail,” “poor as a church mouse,” “slow as molasses.” Avoid cliches, period.
  • Similes. These compare two things that are typically dissimilar to each other by using the work like. Example: The sound of rescue sirens was like music to the ears of the car accident victims. (Sirens aren’t typically music to most people.)
  • Metaphors. These compare two things that are typically dissimilar by saying one is actually the other. Example: The girl was a cat as she crept through the woods. (The girl cannot become a cat, but if you say she was like a cat, you’ve written a simile, not a metaphor.)
  • Jargon. Jargon is the language specific to a certain group such as those in the medical, legal, technical fields or those with specific interests such as hobbyists, etc. Jargon isn’t acceptable when writing to the general reader.
  • 5 W’s and H. After you’ve checked the list above, remember to ask the basic 5-W (who, what, when , where, why) and H (how) questions to determine if your reader will understand your intent.

I hope you’ll find this basic checklist helpful and consider using it before you submit your writing to your agent or editor. Happy writing!