Clear Writing Principles

1: Keep sentences short

Sentences must vary in length to avoid boring your reader. But the average length should be short. Fifteen to 20 words per sentence is a good average. Control sentence length by noticing the number of lines in each sentence. A typewritten line, or a line in average handwriting, averages 10 to 12 words. Remember to vary sentence length, but worry about those that run more than two lines.

2: Prefer the simple to the complex

This principle does not outlaw the use of a complex form. You need both simple and complex forms for clear expression. At times, the complex form may be best. So, if the right word is a big word, go ahead and use it. But if a shorter word does the job, use it. Use compact substitutes for wordy phrases. 

3: Avoid unnecessary words

Unnecessary words usually are included unconsciously. 

4: Put action in your verbs

“The fullback hits the line.” That’s writing with an active verb. “The line is hit by the fullback.” In this sentence the verb is passive. The electricity has gone. The snap of action is no longer there. 

5: Write more like you talk

Just remember to leave out the ums and ahs.

6: Use terms your reader can picture

Avoid fuzzy words. “Conditions,” “situations,” “facilities,” “inadequacies” are typical examples.

7: Write to express, not impress

Learn how to calculate a fog index and use it to test readability of your writing. Fog indexes measure the complexity of writing samples, and often provide a means of calculating the reading or educational level required to understand a particular passage. Some fog indexes are available as computer software programs, or you may do the calculations yourself. Below is an example of a fog index you might try. 

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