The Five C’s of Writing – Part 1: Clarity

To paraphrase an ancient, prolific writer named Paul:
And now these five remain: correctness, conciseness, control, coherence, and clarity. But the greatest of these is clarity.

Of the Five C’s of Writing, the single most important attribute of effective writing is clarity, according to the Grumpy Grammarian, a.k.a., the Grammar Curmudgeon.
“All of the other Five C’s exist to advance, in some way, the Holy Grail of clarity,” he/she stated on his/her website at<>.
(It is hard to tell one’s gender electronically, and I’ve guessed wrongly before.)

The whole purpose of writing is to convey thoughts from one person to another. The trouble is, our thoughts can be far more complex and less linear than the language used to convey them. “No matter how brilliant the thoughts behind the writing are, if our writing is unclear, chances are that readers will give up on it before getting very far,” the Curmudgeon claims. “Of course, clarity is no guarantee that our writing will be effective. What we write could be boring, superficial, or tedious. However, if writing is unclear, its appropriate destination is the wastebasket.”

I’ve read stuff that was about as clear as mud – and I don’t mean drilling mud, I mean the kind my dog Pepper tracks into the house after digging in the back yard on a rainy day. Many times I will finish a long and complicated sentence, then blink my eyes, shake the cobwebs out of my head, and try to read it again, only to find that I still don’t understand what the writer is trying to say.

Another word for clarity is lucidity, which Webster defines as the ability to perceive the truth directly and instantaneously. Lucidity also means luminous, translucent, intelligible. Envision the light bulb going on when the reader “gets it.”

For all you engineers and scientists in the Peanut Gallery, think of clarity and lucidity as the quantitative measurement of the ability to transmit light or illumination. Clarity can be assessed in the laboratory using transmissometers and turbidity sensors. Just as extraneous matter and impurities get in the way of light rays trying to make their way through a fluid, extra concepts crammed into a single sentence can turn your prose turbid. So whenever you finish writing a paragraph, give it the turbidity test and filter out whatever words are keeping the light of your brilliance from shining through.


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