Edit for Clarity

Follow these strategies to achieve clarity in your writing. Edit the works of others from the perspective of clarity. Distinguish Editing for Clarity from proofreading
Clarity: a pic of a riverbed: crystal clear water & sparking rocks Clarity: a pic of a riverbed: crystal clear water & sparking rocks

What is Edit for Clarity?

Editing for Clarity is an exercise in audience awareness and The Elements of Style.

Related Concepts: Rhetorical Analysis; Rhetorical Reasoning; Reasoning with Evidence; Simplicity


Editing @ the Micro and Macro Levels

Writers, speakers, and knowledge workers . . . edit for clarity at the micro and macro levels:

  • At the macro level, Editing for Clarity is a thought exercise: it’s an exercise in flexibility, openness, and reasoning.

    Understandably, after you’ve invested precious time in a document, you may be loathe to trash it. Yet that’s what Editing for Clarity is at the macro level:
    • a willingness to be critical, to revisit the thought processes that informed how you composed the text, to critically revise the text.
    • a willingness to accept the possibility that you were a bit too self-absorbed, that aspects of your texts are writer-based rather than reader-based, All that translates into practice as a willingness to discard large chunks of texts, maybe even the entire text.

      All that translates into practice as a willingness to discard large chunks of texts, maybe even the entire text.

What is the Difference between Editing for Clarity and Proofreading?

When proofreading, you are reading line-by-line and correcting the diction, sentence structure, sentence patterns, and so on.

In contrast, when Editing for Clarity, you are engaged in higher-order thinking. Rather than just checking for grammar and mechanics, you might be

  • empathizing with your audience and trying to imagine how they might respond to some external sources you’ve woven into your texts
  • cutting 50% of the words in a text, realizing less is more
  • ensuring the thesis or research question or hypothesis is a clear through line running through the text.

Strategies for Editing for Clarity

Editing for Clarity is an act of courage and professionalism: you need to embrace simultaneously conflicting processes: believing and doubting

You need to be open to the possibility you can make a text you’ve composed more clear for the intended audience.

  1. To begin, review Clarity; Brevity; Flow, Coherence, Unity; Simplicity
  2. Next, engage in rhetorical analysis of your rhetorical situation. Job number 1 is empathizing with the audience. You want to write from their perspective, not yours. To do so, consider considering the audience-analysis questions outlined at Audience.
  3. Once you know how conversant your reader is with the scholarly conversations about the topic, and once you know the emotional hot spots for the reader, you can begin prewriting, revising, and editing.
  4. As soon as possible, even when in the planning stage, you are wise to seek critical feedback on your texts. Ideally, you can meet with your audience and have them review your plans before writing. If that’s not possible, maybe you can pitch them an early draft. Inexperienced writers may think it’s wiser to wait till a draft is more polished but in truth once you fall down a rabbit hole you can lose perspective and work away slavishly on something that really doesn’t need to be written.