Plain Language: Can You Draw A Picture Of Your Sentence?

In the quest for clarity, I’ve devised a simple test: Can you draw a picture of it? If you can easily turn your words into images, it’s a safe bet that those words are clear, simple and efficient.

Imagine drawing this sentence: I walked to the store with my big ugly dog and bought oranges. Easy, right? The drawing would look something like a woman and big ugly dog coming out of the store with a bag of oranges. The sentence is easy to visualize, which means it’s easy to understand.

But what about this one?

Later, after considering driving her rusty-but-trusty Volkswagen, but wanting the exercise, Estelle, along with her beloved mutt of many years, whose fur had become decidedly mangy over the years, enjoyed a peaceful stroll to the picturesque corner store where she reviewed the many attractive fruits on display, ultimately deciding that citrus was what she needed.

That sentence, with all those adjectives and extra words, is almost impossible to draw. A sentence that is wordy and hard to visualize is usually hard to understand. Short, active sentences tend to be more clear.

4 Ways to Clarify your Sentences:

  1. Take out anything that’s not vital to your point or storyAsk if each word adds to the story or point. In the long sentence above, the car had nothing to do with the point, which was that Estelle bought oranges.
  2. Use strong nouns and active verbs that don’t require crutches. Ditch as many adjectives and adverbs as you can. For example, if someone is rushing, don’t use “ran quickly.” Try a strong, active word like “raced” or “panicked.”
  3. Keep sentences orderly. Subject-Verb-Object. “I walked the dog” is easier to imagine than “The dog was walked.” Not every sentence has to be so short—it’s nice to vary the rhythm and length of your sentences—but remember how hard your audience or reader is working; don’t leave them in a wordy cloud of confusion.
  4. Don’t be scared to stop when you’re done.

Lucinda

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Lucinda Atwood is a coach, speaker and author who helps clients build expertise and confidence in their speaking and leadership skills.
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