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Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

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Presentation on theme: "Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)"— Presentation transcript:

1 Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly. Ludwig Wittgenstein ( )

2 ... a turgid and polysyllabic prose does seem to prevail in the social sciences... Such a lack of ready intelligibility, I believe, usually has little or nothing to do with the complexity of thought. It has to do almost entirely with certain confusions of the academic writer about his own status. C. Wright Mills, “The Sociological Imagination” The Problem

3 Improving Readability, Vigor, and Effectiveness in Your Prose by improving focus and clarity

4 Poorly crafted, perfunctory prose is...  unclear  indirect (ambiguous and confusing)  abstract  dense (complex and monotonous)  wordy and redundant ... and hides meaning not only from the reader but from the writer also

5 Reader-friendly prose is...  clear  direct  concise

6 Reader-friendly prose requires mastery of “global,” “rhetorical” concerns, such as:  understanding our topic  understanding our readers’ needs  a clear intention (e.g., to delight, inform, or persuade)  strategic organization of our content

7 ... as well as mastery of “local,” stylistic concerns:  correctness  clarity  directness  conciseness ... all to avoid an unnecessarily complex prose style

8 for clarity, directness, and conciseness, can help us see through our own confused style to the substance of our ideas, thus sharpening our ideas, organization, and intentions.... and careful revision of our sentences,

9 Revising for clarity, simplicity, and grace helps us understand our own ideas better, thus making our writing clearer, and thus helping us both understand and communicate our ideas. A Creative Oscillation between Style and Content

10 Why are Sentences Unclear?  Not usually because of technical terminology  Not usually because of sentence length  Not usually because of the complexity of the topic

11 Sentences are unclear... when the reader has to think about them.

12 Let’s Get to It!

13 The First Principle of Clear Writing (in two parts) 1. In the subjects of your sentences, name your “cast of characters.” That is, locate the cast of characters and the actions that those characters are performing (or are objects of).

14 2. In the verbs of your sentences, name the crucial actions in which you involve the characters. If the characters don’t appear in the subjects of their sentences, and the actions don’t appear in verbs but, rather, in abstract nouns, revise: Make you subjects name characters, and make your verbs name their actions.

15 An Example  Our lack of pertinent data prevented determination of committee action effectiveness in the targeting of funds to those areas in greatest assistance need.  Who are the “characters”?  “We” (our), “committee,” and “areas”  Because we lacked pertinent data, we could not determine whether the committee had targeted funds to areas that needed assistance the most.

16 Other Benefits Concreteness/specificity An affirmative decision has been reached in regard to termination of the program.... becomes Congress decided to terminate the program.

17 Prepositional Phrases (can be reduced) There will be an evaluation of the program by us in order to achieve greater efficiency in the servicing of clients.... becomes We will evaluate the program so that we can serve clients better.

18 Coherence: Matching Syntax to Logic Decisions in regard to the administration of medication despite the inability of irrational patients appearing in the Trauma Centers to provide legal consent rest with the physician alone. When a patient appears in a Trauma Center and behaves so irrationally that he cannot legally consent to treatment, the physician alone must decide whether to administer medication.

19 Cohesion: By Turning Nouns Back into Verbs Presentation of more pressing needs by other interests resulted in our failure to acquire federal funds, despite intensive lobbying efforts. Though we lobbied Congress intensively, we could not acquire federal funds because other interests presented more pressing needs.

20 Avoid Nominalizations Instead of: There will be a suspension of the program by the dean until his reevaluation of it has been completed. Write: The dean will suspend the program until he has reevaluated it. We conducted an investigation of it. We investigated it. The establishment of a different approach on the part of the committee has become a necessity. The committee must approach it differently. Don’t just state that actions exist; name the actions.

21 Make “Characters” the Subjects First, locate the “characters”: Determination of policy occurs at the presidential level. The President determines policy.

22 Here’s another one The Federalists’ belief that the instability of government was a consequence of popular democracy was based on their belief in the tendency on the part of factions to further their self-interest at the expense of the common good. The Federalists believed that popular democracy destabilized government because they believed that factions tended to further their self-interest at the expense of the common good.

23 Some nominalizations are easy to revise. The police conducted an investigation into the matter. The police investigated the matter There was considerable erosion of the land from floods. The floods considerably eroded the land. Our intention is to audit the records of the program. We intend to audit the records of the program.

24 The process: How can we improve this sentence? Their cessation of hostilities was because of their personnel losses.  Change abstractions to verbs.  Find subjects for those verbs.  Link the new clauses with a word that expresses their logical connection. They ceased hostilities because they lost personnel.

25 Which is the clearer sentence? A. “The cause of our schools’ failure at teaching basic skills is not understanding the influence of cultural background on learning.” B. “Our schools have failed to teach basic skills because they do not understand how cultural backgrounds influence the way children learn.”

26 Again: Change abstractions to verbs. Find subjects for verbs. Link clauses to show logical connection. A. “The cause of our schools’ failure at teaching basic skills is not understanding the influence of cultural background on learning.” B. “Our schools have failed to teach basic skills because they do not understand how cultural backgrounds influence the way children learn.

27 One more  The discovery of a method for the manufacture of artificial skin will have the result of a great increase in the survival of patients with radical burns.  Researchers discover how to manufacture artificial skin; many more patients will survive radical burns.  If researchers discover how to manufacture artificial skin, many more patients will survive radical burns.


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