Clarity—One of Six ‘C’ Qualities of Effective Communication

The ‘C of Clarity’, one of six Cs which represents the six (6) qualities of effective communication, is concerned with techniques for revising messages and making changes accordingly, to improve clarity.

Clarity means writing easy-to-read and easy-to-understand messages.

Any compromise on the clarity of expression may cause communication barrierOpens in new window.

A clear messageOpens in new window keeps the intellectual, emotional and perception level of the intended receiver in mind and focus on expressing a thought, not on impressing the receiver.

In the examples below, the unclear statements on the top are written to impress the receiver; the clear statements beneath are written to express the thought.

    To impress:
  • According to surveys conducted by experts in the field, data consistently shows that worker satisfaction, a truly worthy goal of any enterprise is increased together with a correspondent increase in net profit by prudently investing in a superior on-the-job training program.
    To express:
  • Surveys consistently show that investment in on-the-job training increases profits and improves worker satisfaction.
Important Hint! 

Revise messages and make changes accordingly to enhance clarity.

Sometimes you may feel reluctant to make changes in messages that you create. Strive, however, to form the habit of rewriting to improve clarity.

Use the following points to check messages to ensure you adhere to the principles of clarity when expressing your thoughts:

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1.   Select Appropriate Words

Selecting appropriate words to convey ideas in the form of a message is crucial as it enhances understanding between sender and receiver.

Words that look alike or sound alike should be avoided because they tend to cause confusion.

Verify word meanings in a dictionary to avoid offending or misleading a reader. When preparing spoken messages, use a dictionary to verify pronunciations.

2.   Place Words in an Orderly Sequence

Having your messages read aloud can prove helpful to reveal unclear word placement. If after you reread the statement the present words order sounds awkward or unconvincing, try a different word arrangement.

When English is the primary language, the pattern of subject before verb usually provides the clearest sequence.

The remarks “Baked is the bread” and “Scrambled are your eggs” sound awkward. Both statements place the verbOpens in new window before the subjectOpens in new window, and the order appears illogical.

In the following examples, notice how placing the subject before the verb makes the sentences easier to read and understand.

    Unclear Word Order
  • Enclosed is your check.
  • Hot was the tea.
    Clear Word Order
  • Your check is enclosed.
  • The tea was hot.

2.1.   Handling Pronouns

When using a pronoun, make sure the pronounOpens in new window restates the intended reference, the antecedentOpens in new window.

Change the word order or word choice when any confusion exists between a pronoun and an antecedent.

Sentences containing expressions such as his or hers, he and she, or him or her are confusing to readers. Try rewriting the sentence with a plural antecedent and plural pronouns.

The following examples illustrate how to correct unclear pronoun references:

    Unclear Antecedent
  • Shigeko spoke with Angela while she completed the travel voucher.
    (Does she refer to Shegeko or to Angela?)
  • Clear Antecedent
  • Shigeko completed the travel voucher while she spoke with Angela |or:
  • While completing the travel voucher, Shigeko spoke with Angela.
    Unclear Antecedent
  • Pronouns should not be used in definitions because they have unclear meanings.
    (They could refer to pronouns or to definitions.)
  • Clear Antecedent
  • Definitions containing pronouns may have unclear meanings. |or:
  • Pronouns used in definitions may have unclear meanings.
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3.   Limit Use of It and There

It, an indefinite reference, often causes the reader to search for a correct meaning or relationship.

With a minimum of effort, you can state exactly what you mean and limit the use of it.

By being specific, you also may shorten your message. Compare the following sentences:

    Indefinite It
  • It is recommended that you register early.
  • After the program ends, it is time for you to leave.
  • Improved Clarity
  • Please register early.
  • After the program ends, you may leave.

Just as removing it from sentences often improves clarity, so does reducing the use of there.

When used correctly, the word there refers to a specific place. Note how both clarity and brevity improve when there is eliminated in the following examples:

    Indefinite There
  • There are six steps you can use to ensure message clarity.
  • There will be a display of traditional Kimonos in Building 71 on June 11.
  • Improved Clarity
  • You can use six steps to ensure message clarity.
  • Traditional kimonos will be displayed in Building 71 on June 11.

4.   Position Phrases Correctly

HumourOpens in new window can be an asset in messages. However, you want the reader to laugh with you, not at you. Incorrectly placed phrases can create unintended humour, cause misunderstanding, and reduce your credibility.

Correctly positioned phrases reduce the chance of unintended humour, as shown in these examples:

    Incorrect Positioning
  • Victor ordered rugs for the new apartment of various colors.
  • The book was found in Michiko’s office with full-page illustrations.
  • Correct Positioning
  • Victor ordered rugs of various colors for the new apartment.
  • The book with full-page illustrations was found in Michiko’s office.

5.   Position Clauses Correctly

The words which and that frequently introduce a clauseOpens in new window. If the sentence is clear and correct without the clause, the clause is nonrestrictive and should be set off with commas.

When the clause is needed for clarity or correctness, the clause is restrictive and commas should not be inserted.

Which generally introduces a nonrestrictive clause, and that generally introduces a restrictive clause.

Correctly placed clauses make the meaning clear. Incorrectly placed clauses can create confusion, as shown in the following examples:

    Incorrect Positioning
  • Julia returned the support cast for her injured leg that she bought.
  • Please place your donation in the jar, which is appreciated.
  • Correct Positioning
  • Julia returned the support cast that she bought for her injured leg.
  • Please place your donation, which is appreciated, in the jar.

6.   Keep Sentences Short

State your message in as few words as possible. Lengthy sentences often cause readers to lose the intended meaning. Most sentences range from 13 to 30 words; the average sentence contains 16 words.

Short sentences are forceful and emphatic. However, short sentences can become choppy unless you write thoughtfully

Combine words into sentences that show concern for the reader and that are easy to understand. Thus, you can maintain courtesy and clarity with brief sentences. ConcisenessOpens in new window, the next C quality, which contains techniques for writing concise messages, is discussed hereOpens in new window.