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Write to be Understood

By Janice Gillgren

“Do you understand what I mean to say?” My Great-Uncle used to tack this long questioning phrase onto many of his statements or questions. I thought this was really quirky when I was young, and used to laugh at him, as he sat on his chair, with his big pipe hanging out of his mouth. It was such a long way of asking if we had understood him correctly.

Why is being understood so important? Put that way, the answer is obvious: If you are not writing (or speaking) to be understood, why bother?

The internet has changed the way we communicate. It has made communication both more simple, but also more fraught with misunderstanding than ever. You can send something around the world in a second; and your words can be kept indefinitely in an archive somewhere in cyber space.

Partly due to the fact that there are so many languages all being translated so that we can all understand each other, there is increasing opportunities for wrong understanding .

Each country, each state, each culture – all have different ways of saying the same things. Trouble is, what you say to your neighbours may mean something quite different to someone across the world, so it is more important than ever to write clearly and carefully so that (hopefully) anyone can understand what it is you mean to say.

How can you make write to make yourself more clearly understood? Here are six ways that will help:

� Use words that are aimed at your average reader’s reading level. For a useful guide to the level you should use – read your local newspaper. Their level should be suitable for you as well.

� Beware of slang- those particular words or terms used in a locality or by a specific cultural group. One person I know uses the term ‘hit the sack’ to mean ‘go to bed.’ While that’s fine when talking to a local, it’s likely to be very confusing to someone who has no idea why you should pummel some sackcloth!

� Read your writing aloud to yourself; imagining yourself to be a critical and ignorant reader. (Don’t be too tough on yourself though, or you’ll never get past the first paragraph!)

� Arrange your points as logically as possible, so that there is sensible flow.

� If at all possible, wait for a while. How long you wait will probably depend on how long your item is. I find that a longer piece of writing does better with a longer wait; probably because the important flow of an item is more difficult to determine than just grammar and spelling, and a longer wait will help you come back to it with a fresher perspective so you can more readily see faults.

� If you cannot wait, (or even if you can) ask someone else to read it. This is where a writing buddy, a mentor or a writer’s support group can be invaluable.

Sometimes, in our endeavour to achieve a certain style of writing, or attain a required word count, we may forget what we are writing for – to be understood as clearly as possible.

Having been a freelance writer for some years now, I can say for sure that the hardest work in writing is to write clearly enough that you are unlikely to be misunderstood.

So – do you understand what I mean to say?

Janice Gillgren is the author of the website and blog called []

The blog on this site offers inspiration, encouragement and useful tips to writers at all levels.

Article Source: [] Write to be Understood

Image:© Dejan Lazarevic |

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